by Blake Chapman
In the beautiful countryside of Mexico, there once lived a gorgeous woman named Maria. She fell for a rich ranchero, married the man she loved and had two wonderful kids. Following a rough patch in their marriage where her husband placed more attention on his children than his wife, Maria witnessed her husband in the arms of a younger beauty. In an fit of furious revenge, Maria drowned her two sons in a nearby river. After she came to her senses and realized the extent of her actions, she threw herself into those very same waters. That night, villagers saw a figure sobbing along the banks of the river, wearing Maria’s burial clothes and crying for the loss of her children. Today, the weeping woman is said to comb the earth in search of misbehaving children, luring them to bodies of water after dark to punish them for their misdeeds.
That is the curse of La Llorona, and while the 2019 rendition that goes by the same name evokes fear of her dreaded cry, this new addition to The Conjuring universe does not present many effectively scary tricks even with the spice of a real-world legend.
Narrative inconsistencies that belong in a graveyard
Terrific writing and fantastic characters can pull plenty of weight but without an interesting location for that narrative to take place, the entire story lacks flavor. This happens to be the central problem with The Curse of La Llorona from the start of the core story. That issue begins when we are introduced to our main character Anna Tate-Garcia, played by Linda Cardellini, who lives in the sun-soaked metropolis of 1973 Los Angeles. While the movie tries its best to pepper in accurate references and callbacks to this era of American history, like an original episode of Scooby-Doo! Where Are You? and a typical T.V. dinner, the actual house the majority of the hauntings take place in does not match the time period in the slightest. Looking at it from the street it seems all you need is a ‘For Sale’ sign sticking out of the ground and it could easily be bought by the next silicon valley executive that walks past.
Additionally, the key character trait that sets La Llorona apart from the other ghouls and specters in The Conjuring universe is her unique connection to water. Without that she is unable to complete her quests of stealing children away and drowning them in nearby reservoirs. However, it seems that the L.A. in this universe throws the relevance of climate data out a third story window. Over the three whole days the film takes place, it rains enough to make noticeable puddles and raise the water level of the nearest river. The entire problem with this scenario is that when reviewing factual data about the summer months of Southern California, this turn of events would be highly improbable. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the city of Los Angeles receives at most one rainy day per month in the summer, let alone an average total rainfall of 0.095 inches between the months of May and August.
Though that may sound like a nitpick sort of observation, it can easily be argued that there were more optimal times of the year to set the film in. The rainy season in California usually occurs between early winter and late spring, but it can be inferred that the time of year is summer, seeing as the family’s pool is open. When the entire existence of the main antagonist revolves around one necessary plot device that is not native to the setting, it comes off as terrible cosmic coincidence and The Curse of La Llorona is full of it.
Acting that could raise the dead
For what La Llorona lacks in cohesive plot details, it quite makes up for it with the performances of the majority of its cast, going as far as the child actors who make the film special. At the helm we have Linda Cardellini of Scooby-Doo and Gravity Falls fame, who gives a subdued but caring performance as Anna. Patricia Velasquez gives a tremendous performance as Patricicia Alvarez, the mother of two of La Llorona’s latest victims. Her insane antics really keeps the audience on their toes until the final act, and her turn of face in the middle of the movie is piercing and quite well done.
The child actors in the film (Roman Christou as Chris and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen as Samantha) drive the movie forward with their terrified countenances. Their reactions to the brutal supernatural energy they come into contact with feels genuine. Marisol Ramirez as the titular cursed spirit is the best performance in the entire film. Her introduction in the first act is mesmerizing and the delivery of those Spanish wails is terrifying to say the least. When La Llorona is on-screen, she is the center of the audience’s attention and harbors danger with her glowing gaze.
As for the Tate-Garcia’s savior, a curandero named Rafael Olvera, the former Breaking Bad star Raymond Cruz gives a very dry performance. He lacks conviction in a role that is truly titular to the conclusion of the film. He is stoic to the point of annoyance and his addition at the beginning of the third act does plenty for the story, but not enough for the overall quality of film.
Design and directing that are as alive as ever
There were multiple scenes throughout La Llorona that stoke genuine fear with the way they are shot. Firstly, the almost Victorian-style hospital that Patricia’s children stay in the night of their death is haunting. The flickering lights, leaky water and grimy mirrors add amazing atmosphere to the movie. As for that all-important water, the reflective shots and angled framing used throughout are creative. Of course, the entire film could not be so stylistically impressive without the all-important bathroom sequence. The backdrop of white tiles and eloquent curtains contrasts excellently with the dry, blackened hands of the ghoulish antagonist.
As for the cursed specter’s design, the technical crew did a wonderful job enhancing her entrances and overall presence on-screen. Her motion envelops the camera and run as fluidly as her black tears that will sting your soul as fiercely as her cries.
Featured Image: IMDb
The Curse of La Llorona
Though it may not serve as a valuable addition to 'The Conjuring' universe and is rife with unnecessary plot devices, 'The Curse of La Llorona' is a well-done piece of modern horror. However, because of its release schedule and other unfortunate circumstances, this tall tale remains trapped six feet under.
Blake is a Journalism major who loves everything Byte covers: video games, music, movies and animation. He hopes to gain real-world experience writing for Byte and all the other news organizations at Ball State. Blake is also an honors student and has a passion for learning new and interesting aspects of the world around him.