The Curse of La Llorona is the sixth film in the ongoing Conjuring series. Released through Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema, the film is helmed by first-time director Michael Chaves (the director of next year’s The Conjuring 3), written by Mikki Daughtry & Tobias Iaconis, and stars Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, and Patricia Velásquez. The story is based on the Mexican folklore of La Llorona, also known as The Weeping Woman, and follows Anna (Cardellini), a widowed mother of two in 1970s Los Angeles, who must protect her children from the supernatural entity in question (Marisol Ramirez).
If nothing else, the film hints at being greater than it ultimately is. The acting is surprisingly strong considering the campy connotations drawn to similar films of the genre, and the way the jump scares and visceral sequences are brought into the narrative make for a movie that, regardless of quality, is at least well-paced. There’s a conspicuous, but distinct bleakness to the visuals that fit the mood, and some of the preliminary bits of exposition and world-building invite excitement in the thrills to come.
The problem is simply the story, or rather the unfulfilling mass of familiar plot points that never amount to anything more than a series of vaguely interesting incidents. I hadn’t seen the majority of the Conjuring films until this past week, and watching them all within the span of a few days dramatically enlightened me as to how structurally similar they all are. There’s an establishing horror sequence, a flash forward into the future, a few mysterious events, the realization that something supernatural is occurring, the summoning of the disgruntled professional(s), the victory over evil, and of course the obnoxious teaser for a sequel. La Llorona aggressively follows this formula beat by beat.
The most disappointing downside to this familiarity is the narrative potential sacrificed along the way. La Llorona is a widely known legend substantially ingrained within Mexican culture, and we learn through photographs that Anna’s late husband was of prominent Latinx descent. Given that La Llorona’s intent, as dramatized in the film, is the unrestrained murder of children by way of drowning, this story is ripe with allegory for how cultural backgrounds, for all the wrong reasons, can be harmful, especially in a time and place as tumultuous as 70s LA. The film never explores this thematic or historical undercurrent, or any other to speak of, and is instead bound to follow an overly obvious framework of generic supernatural horror.
The late arrival of Raymond Cruz as Exorcist stand-in Rafael Olvera in the third act only goes to further clarify the film’s own mediocrity. It’s the climactic haunted house sequence, and by now everyone has come to terms with the fact that extraordinary superstitions are indeed a reality, and yet there’s never any moment of flustered reflection to balance the fantastical circumstances. There’s certainly a sense of urgency to be felt, but the events taking place are presented with an earnestness that, if anything, makes for unintentional comedy where there should be intensity. Additionally, like many of the ghostly presences in these films, the physical rules governing the spirit of La Llorona are created and dissolved at the whim of the script, a drastic hindrance to the building of suspense.
This all results in a conclusion as predictable as it is lifeless, and the arrival of the end credits signify that there is, unfortunately, nothing more to it than that. When all is said and done, the movie is at best a serviceable foray into extremely familiar territory, but in this sense, its serviceability is its biggest downfall. There are just enough jump scares and isolated moments of tension to not bore or frustrate most viewers, but the film offers nothing constructive or exciting beyond the meager curse of its existence, and it pains to entertain the notion that these movies might never grow beyond such a hauntingly limited domain.