SXSW 2019: ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ struggles to find originality in the horror genre

‘The Curse of La Llorona’ fails to standout as a horror film but manages a few striking scenes. 

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The horror film “The Curse of La Llorona” premiered at SXSW last Friday. The showing began with a “limpia” — a type of spiritual cleansing — which consisted of women burning sage as the crowd filed into the Paramount Theatre. After a brief introduction from director, Michael Chavez, a curandero or spiritual healer came out on stage to rid us of negative energy in preparation for the film. 

The plot is based around an old Latin Folklore: La Llorona otherwise known as “the weeping woman.” Within the first scene, we are introduced to La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez) through a flashback. Once a beautiful young woman, she drowned her children to spite her unfaithful husband but felt guilty so she resorted to drowning other children to replace the spirits of her own. Jump to the 1970s and we are placed in the world of Anna Garcia (Linda Cardellini), widowed mother and child protective service worker. She visits the home of troubled mother Patricia (Patricia Velásquez), only to find a plague of issues in which she removes the children from the home, unknowingly exposing them to La Llorona. This leads to a plethora of evil terror onto her own two children (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen and Roman Christou). The family’s only hope lies in the unorthodox methods of a priest turned freelance healer (Raymond Cruz).  

Basing this film on established folklore meant that this spirit has pre-set rules and implications, which as far as I can tell were followed. This also restrained the filmmakers from creating guidelines as they went which feels frequent in the horror genre like in “It Follows.” The best scenes were the ones that incorporated mythology. Specific methods used to scout evil spirits such as rubbing eggs on furniture, burning herbs and strategically placing petals at thresholds made for a unique crossing of dramatic horror and real-life healing practices. 

This is director Michael Chavez’s first feature-length film. Given how cliche some techniques in horror can be, there were stand-out scenes that felt very tailored to fit the story. Heavy use of candles and bottom lighting certainly added to the evil spirit narrative. “La Llorona” is represented by tears and puddles, and two scenes underwater were some of the most suspenseful but also departed from typical stylistic choices. 

Given that Chavez will be working on “The Conjuring 3” and the film was produced by “Conjuring” director James Wan, it was announced that “La Llorona” exists within the world of “The Conjuring” franchise — despite being marketed as a standalone film. However, this just gave way to several similarities: demonic marks on the arms, a clingy spirit, poor electrical wiring and an overdone 70’s retro aesthetic. It was fairly clear that combining the worlds did not do anything to advance the plot of any of the stories, but is most likely just for marketing purposes. 

A dead woman who steals and drowns children is a great premise, but this film took that concept and made it as pleasant as possible. While urban legends in themselves have plenty of substance and years of tales to construct a terrifying narrative, this film heavily depended on fast cuts to La Llorona’s decayed face for the big scares. I certainly don’t mind a few jump-scares because watching a horror film in a dark theatre with your adrenaline constantly shooting up adds to the experience. Unfortunately, a film fails to be memorable if it’s horror has nothing beyond this immediate gratification. 

Cardellini managed to pull off a unique character without falling into one of the single mother tropes. She maintains a suitable single mom balance between completely unhinged like “The Babadook” or superficial fear like “The Conjuring 2.” Despite a strong lead, everything is still formulaic and predictable. You don’t have to know much beyond the fact that Anna Garcia had already lost her husband and loves her children dearly to know that this movie doesn’t have the nerve to do anything too macabre. Not to say “La Llorona” doesn’t throw the family around and pull some ankles. 

“The Cure of La Llorona” is an entertaining hour and a half and certainly worth a watch for fans of any James Wan content. Though it’s easy to forget about once the credits start rolling. 

“The Curse of La Llorona” will be in theatres April 19th. 

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