She wants your children, but this tale never reveals for what.
In fourteenth century Mexico, the beautiful wife of a rich noble drowns her children to punish her husband for his wanton ways; horrified and grieving over what she had done, she drowns herself. The legend grows into La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez), a Latin American banshee-like ghoul invoked to encourage children home before dark, but Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez) fears her own boys have been targeted by the dark spirit. Being the year 1973, however, a single mom keeping her children home from school is a truancy violation, and caseworker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) is sent in to assess the situation. When Patricia’s boys are later found mysteriously drowned, Anna’s own children Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) find themselves the latest targets of the weeping woman in white.
“The five stages of grief” interestingly work well for hauntings: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance… preferably in time to kick ass. This can’t be real! Why is it targeting me? Can’t you go terrorize someone else? Oh God, I’m gonna die! Fine — kill me, I am here! Omens, evidence, discovery, research, interviews, and an inevitable final confrontation are all expected, but genre fans demand story to go with their atmosphere; it’s a staple of American cinema that all the clues add up to something that makes sense. The Nun had a great setup, then meandered a bit with its premise before finally selling out in a hodge-podge rehash of conclusions from better films. Does La Llorona make the grade, or does she curse audiences with another lackluster spinoff?
The problem with La Llorona is a lack of focus for both the film and the title character; is she a Pied Piper or a Freddy Krueger? As yet another fleshed-out fiend of The Conjuring universe — its direct sequel still being the best of the series — this abbreviated story lacks effective monster motivation. While cribbing hints of legends similar to witches, ghosts, and vampires, La Llorona’s abilities seem as random as her weaknesses. Late in the film, it becomes obvious that a more devastating effect was a less monstrous version captivating victims with her approach; if you can lure your targets willingly, why bother with all the terrorizing? Learning actual background on our featured monster would have been far more preferred, but what we got was a decent cast wasted on a schlocky atmospheric jump-scare boo-fest.
It’s suggested La Llorona can be invoked, similar to the loa spirits of Haitian and Louisiana Voodoo, and is blocked from the afterlife until she can present her own lost children at the gates. Being a confused spirit, she mistakes any children she discovers out at night as her own, drowning them in an attempt to pass using their souls as currency. This far more tragic version didn’t work for filmmakers as a terrorizing spirit, so the more interesting motivations are muted in favor of a generic ghoul that looks and acts too much like The Nun… and a poorer imitation at that. A better idea would be to invoke the spirit with a false claim to enable her assumptions (“I found your children! They are in that house!”) and her cries of despair when trapped outside (“Give back my children!”), while the solution could be to convince La Llorona they were not her children, turning her considerable ire upon the false accuser for the deception.
Why the filmmakers building these Conjuring Universe spinoffs feel the need to dumb down interesting spooky stories into minimal monster mashes is a head scratcher. It’s understandable with The Nun and Annabelle since they’re building off of their own stories or making them up as they go, but La Llorona had plenty of pre-existing material that could have been better mined and presented. The next Annabelle is on the horizon and a third Conjuring film promises better fare, but only true fans of this series will see the woman-in-white tale as anything more than cinematic filler. Need a little revenge on the neighbor’s naughty children? Call 1-800-LLORONA!
The Curse of La Llorona is inexplicably rated R for violence, terror, and nary an f-bomb in sight.
Two skull recommendation out of four