Part of The Conjuring Universe, allegedly (there’s a Conjuring Universe!?), The Curse of La Llorona is just a mess. I usually start these off with either a short overview of who worked on the film or even a description of the story, but none of that matters here. This is a cash grab based around an old Mexican legend, but none of the specifics matter here. This is a film processed through a simplifying narrative machine, any measure of uniqueness stemming from the legend quickly syphoned out for a cheap series of basic jump scares.
First of all, La Llorona is a weeping woman; just hearing her wailing should be a dangerous factor. Yet her bitter tears are quickly forgotten; here, she is instead the endlessly screaming woman (La Gritona?) – a screaming woman who also grabs people by the arm. Really, she does little beyond that – screams, grabs an arm, runs away to do it again. She drowns some kids, but that’s off screen. Her on-screen presence is so commonly reduced to this simple cycle. The whole movie is the same scene with slight variations; people are scared La Llorona is near, they eventually stumble across her, she screams, grabs them (again, usually by the arm), then disappears. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
It’s not like we get much before that, either. Linda Cardellini plays a social worker who separates two children from their seemingly insane mother, only for the boys to be drowned by La Llorona a bit later. She goes to where the boys were found, her own children dragged along to a murder scene for some stupid reason, where her son soon encounters La Llorona. There’s no build-up of anything, we almost immediately fall into a family being terrorized, but, like, only once every three minutes or so.
There’s nothing shocking here, never any truly scary set-ups. It’s a film that runs purely off the idea of being startling – which, while being startled starts off as a fear reaction, it almost immediately turns to one of annoyance. To be startled usually means realizing whatever scared you isn’t actually a threat – each jump scare reduces the tension leading into the next. There’s no weight to anything here, no atmosphere being built.
This is a hard movie to talk about in detail because it really is that shallow. The more technical elements aren’t as lackluster as the story, but they’re not exactly good either. The one positive thing I took out of the whole experience is Raymond Cruz as a shaman who assists the family in fighting La Llorona, who fits a few fun one liners in. He is a pleasant relief amid a sea of tediousness.
The Curse of La Llorona is a film that completely misunderstands the appeal of horror. It’s sad that The Conjuring Universe seems convinced it has a room full of haunted knick-knacks that could each have their own sinister origin story. It really doesn’t mean much if it’s going to treat them all as entirely interchangeable. And if you’re going to fall back on an obvious formula, at least come up with a good one first.