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"La Llorona" inspires less fear than the legend its based on

The Curse of La Llorona is a 2019 American horror film from director Michael Chaves and writers Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis and produced by James Wan. It follows a widowed mother of two children whose lives are thrown into a horrific fight for survival when a curse is placed upon them calling forth La Llorona or the weeping women, who will stop at nothing to claim the children for herself.

On the surface this film had everything going for it. It’s the latest installment to the hugely successful Conjuring universe, it’s based on a Latin

American legend that has been terrifying children in Mexico for hundreds of years, a chance for the horror genre to diversify its main players, and it promised to deliver a story about more than ghosts and goblins but with the burdens of motherhood at its core. Anyone sitting at a pitch meeting for this film would see that producing it is a no brainer.

However, what we end up being given in execution is a watered down version of the films total potential. There was a time where I would have told you that the Conjuring movies were some of the most visionary entrees into the horror genre and reinvigorated the classic haunted house narrative. I believe that still holds true for the two core films that director James Wan helmed, but it has become clear with every new edition to the franchise that Wan’s touch is exactly what makes these films special and horrifying and that without him in the directors chair every other film is just a pale, by the numbers adaption. La Llorona is not an exception to the rule. Many of the shots, the score, and the feel of the film are meant to seem as though James Wan was guiding the ship but they are all imitative and unoriginal attempts to copy, not dissimilar from how films like Bitch Slap tried to mimic Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez at their peak.

La Llorona is based on the Latin legend of the weeping woman. A story told to children in order to make them behave. As the story goes, La Llorona is a dark spirit that drowned her own children and now roams the Earth in search of naughty children and takes them if they don’t stop crying. It’s nice cultural horror story to grow up with and it seems like it would make a great basis for a feature horror film. To the writers credit they stuck to the story's legend fairly closely. The primary issue I have with their treatment of the source material is that La Llorona seems fairly incapable of actually taking any of the children away like the legend suggests, instead Llorona serves to present us with a jump scare, whenever we the audience becomes bored with the backdrop of single mother drama that unfolds to not much payoff. Speaking of scares, every major scare in the film is already present in the trailers so if you’ve seen any of those you have essentially seen the film.

In the promotion for this film La Llorona promised to present us with a story that was more than just cheap scares but at its core was about motherhood. To the film’s credit the first fifty minutes at least attempt to present the story of a recently widowed mother of two working full time as a child protective services agent who due to La Llorona finds herself in the crosshairs of an investigation, but that kind of deep emotional storytelling was a bit more than the writers were able to chew and they quickly abandon the plot in favor of more cheap scares from the weeping women.

What really puts the final nail in the coffin for La Llorona is the third act. We know how these films usually go, the haunted person reaches out to the church for help and is then turned to “experts” who in the Conjuring universe are typically the Warrens. However, in its attempt to break away from the Warren narrative and stay true to its Latin roots the film decides to introduce Rafael Olvera played by Raymond Cruz. A demonologist turned faith healer who was excommunicated from the Church. The character can essentially be summed up in two words, Mexican Constantine. The character spends more time spitting one liners than he does being useful, his introduction also turns the film into a weird Dora Halloween special with Olvera feeling the need to say everything in Spanish only to follow up a half a second later with an English translation. Ultimately the writers put themselves in a corner by making La Llorona so unstoppable that they couldn’t think of a practical and satisfying way to finish her, so of course they went with the laziest thing they possibly could have just to finish the script that I have no doubt they had become bored with while writing.

Ultimately La Llorona is an hour and a half of wasted potential. Hopefully someday someone like Robert Rodriguez approaches the source material with a more original eye and gives us a version of the folklore that will be both scary in the ways that matter, or at the very least entertaining.

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