I’m not entirely familiar with the Mexican legend of La Llorona, but we do have our own versions of a kid-snatching bogeyman in the Philippines. Parents would warn kids of the local “aswang”, who would take away children who don’t go home before night. In other areas of the country, Filipinos fear the “engkanto”, malevolent spirits who would curse humans who offend them and in some cases, take naughty children to their own world, never to be seen again. However, the Filipino bogeyman doesn’t have to be a mythical creature! If you misbehave, your mom might tell you that the police will come to take you away and never return you to your family.
The legend of La Llorona may be Mexican folklore, but the fear of the bogeyman is something that many cultures can relate to. This universal fear is something that Michael Chaves’ The Curse of La Llorona could have anchored on, but rather than reviving my deep childhood fear of being taken away by a malicious entity, the real horror of the folklore gets lost in a bunch of shallow jumpscares and conveniently explained expositions.
The film starts in 17th. century Mexico, where we have a glimpse of the tragic story of La Llorona herself. When she discovers that her husband is having an affair with a younger woman, she took her anger on the most important thing to him – their sons. She drowned both of her children in the river, blinded by rage and pain.
We then jump to 1973, where we are introduced to Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini), a widowed social worker who is raising her two children named Sam (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) and Chris (Roman Christou). In one of her routine checks of her longtime client, Patricia (Patricia Velásquez), she discovers that Patricia has kept her own children locked in a closet, claiming that she is protecting them from a vengeful spirit named La Llorona. When they are unable to save Patricia’s sons, Anna discovers that La Llorona has now latched on to Sam and Chris, and now she must fight to keep them safe from the Weeping Woman.
As my movie buddy pointed out, The Curse of La Llorona is the bastard son of the Conjuring Universe. This film feels like the odd one out of the franchise. In fact, the only thing that tells us that this movie is within the Conjuring timeline, is a short cameo by Father Perez (Tony Amendola), who appeared in 2014’s Annabelle. We also see the infamous doll in a quick flashback, but neither Father Perez nor Annabelle brings weight into the storyline. It’s as if they were conveniently placed there to tell us that hey, this movie may be a bastard but it is still a part of the family.
While it does have a few decent scares (there’s one suspenseful bathtub scene and another with two kids trapped in a car) it’s the kind of horror that is more startling than scary. You get skin-deep scares that don’t linger, unlike the dreadful horror brought by the The Conjuring or Insidious, that haunts you even after you have left the cinema. There is also a bit of humor thrown in which unfortunately, is more embarrassing than funny. If The Nun had an ugly stepsister, it would be “La Llorona”.
The problem I think, is that La Llorona herself feels more lot like a plot device rather than a character. What makes Valak and Annabelle scary and iconic, is that the films are able to convince the audience that these malevolent entities are as real as the human characters. Despite the backstory at the beginning, the film fails to flesh out the horror behind this Latino legend. The Weeping Woman that we see later on in the film, could easily be just any other evil spirit, losing the terror that she brought to generations of Latino kids.
Despite being an adult, I’m still afraid of the bogeyman. I may have not grown up with the legend of La Llorona, but I do know the fear that a scary creature might snatch you when you’re asleep. I entered the cinema expecting The Curse of La Llorona to stir those deep dark fears, but I came out rather indifferent. For that, I’m not sure if I’m thankful or disappointed.