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New To DVD - THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA

The Curse of La Llorona review
A social worker and her kids are menaced by a Mexican spirit.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Chaves

Starring: Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tony Amendola

The Curse of La Llorona dvd


The Mexican folk legend of 'La Llorona' tells the gruesome tale of a beautiful young woman who drowned her children in a river in a jealous rage when they took her place in her husband's affections. Her spirit is said to prey on young children, attaching herself to anyone unfortunate to stumble across her. The legend has inspired several Mexican horror movies, and now finds itself shoehorned haphazardly into the ever expanding Conjuring franchise with The Curse of La Llorona.

Following a 17th century prologue which details the birth of the legend, we cut to 1973 Los Angeles and meet Anna (Linda Cardellini), a police widow and social worker who lives with her two young children, Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). Anna is called to the case of a Mexican immigrant accused of mistreating her children. At the woman's house, she finds the kids shut away in a closet, seemingly terrified. Their mother is arrested and the children are placed temporarily in a shelter, where they are visited by the spirit of La Llorona.

The Curse of La Llorona review

That night, Anna is woken with bad news - the children's bodies have been fished out of a local river. Anna heads to the scene, taking her own kids along. Bad parenting, as when Chris decides to wander off he comes across La Llorona, who materialises and leaves a burn mark when she grabs his wrist. Anna's rugrats have become the latest target of the malevolent Mexican meanie.

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The Curse of La Llorona superficially ties into the Conjuring series when Anna seeks spiritual guidance from Father Perez (Tony Amendola), the priest who battled the titular doll in 2014's Annabelle. As the movie is set in the '70s, Father Perez takes the place of a search engine, dispensing helpful exposition and filling in the details of the legend. With Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga's fees presumably out of this film's budget, Perez refers Anna not to the Warrens but to Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), a former Catholic priest who has now embraced Native Mexican spirituality as he battles the occult.

The Curse of La Llorona review

It's here that we're reminded that this is a franchise that has leaned heavily into Christian propaganda in the past (none more offensively than The Conjuring 2, which shoved aside the 'real life' case's Jewish exorcist in favour of the Christian Warrens). For all his talk of the traditional beliefs of pre-colonial Mexicans, Olvera ultimately pulls out a crucifix as his weapon of choice. The idea that a figure of Native Mexican mythology can be taken out by Christian ideals didn't sit well with me. I can't speak for how Mexican viewers will interpret this, but as an Irishman, if a movie treated the Banshee in this manner I'd be livid.

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Horror impresario James Wan is a divisive figure among the horror community. With his Insidious and Conjuring films and their many spinoffs, Wan brought the genre back into the mainstream, tapping into the franchise formula of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But there's also a formula to his filmmaking, a cynical, machine like quiet-quiet-BANG approach to horror, and his name has become synonymous with the telegraphed jump scare. The directors who have taken over from Wan have seen their work undermined by overbearing sound effects, as though they can't be trusted to deliver genuine scares through visuals. Director Michael Chaves has been given a little more leeway than his predecessors here. Rather than quiet-quiet-BANG, Chaves' film is more quiet-quiet-quiet-BANG, with a couple of scenes in which composer Joseph Bishara's 'jump now' score is removed to allow for some old-fashioned, quietly atmospheric menace. The movie's highlight is a cleverly constructed scene at a swimming pool, with nice use of a transparent umbrella. With the music and sound effects erased, the scene works in a way this shoddy franchise rarely does. With no music to tell us when we should start getting scared, it has an unsettling effect that demonstrates in a few minutes why so many hardcore horror fans hold this series in such disdain.

The Curse of La Llorona review

Elsewhere Chaves is heavily reigned in and The Curse of La Llorona is formulaic to a numbing degree. Watching its rote procedural narrative peppered with noisy jolts play out, you begin to feel like you're playing for a world class football team against an opposition whose tactics are so one-dimensional you can anticipate their every move. The movie switches from scenes of exposition to telegraphed set-pieces in a clunky manner, with little in the way of organic tissue connecting the two. "Did you get that important piece of info?," the film might as well say, "Well here's some scary stuff."

For all its rigid formulaic filmmaking, the movie plays laughably loose with the rules of its mythos. La Llorona is essentially a spirit who can materialise out of thin air, yet in the silliest climax yet seen in this very silly franchise, characters thwart the ghoul by closing doors and windows on her. Between this and Trump's wall, I'm beginning to think a lot of Americans believe Mexicans don't possess opposable thumbs.

The Curse of La Llorona comes to UK DVD September 9th.


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