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London Film Festival 2019 Review - LA LLORONA

la llorona review
A retired Guatemalan general found guilty of genocide is haunted by the spirit of the Weeping Woman.


Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Jayro Bustamente

Starring: Julio Diaz, María Telón, María Mercedes Coroy, Sabrina De La Hoz, Margarita Kenéfic

la llorona poster



Not to be confused with the Conjuring universe flick released earlier this year - not at all. While The Curse of La Llorona kindled the titular ghost for commercial interests, Jayro Bustamente's thoroughly gripping La Llorona applies the folklore of the Weeping Woman to ground a political story that reckons with Guatemala's history.

Here, La Llorona is a harbinger of justice rather than a vengeful spirit. Some 30 years after the Guatemalan genocide - the Silent Holocaust - the feeble elderly General Enrique Montaverde (Julio Diaz), based on the brutal real-life General Efraín Ríos Montt, is found culpable of genocide against the Mayan population but gets off scott-free in a mistrial, leading to widespread protests from the Mayan community, whose blood cover his hands.

la llorona review
After narrowly getting through a police-protected route back to his home via ambulance, the General is bound to internal care - as a narrative device that obeys the skeleton of a typical spooky story, the mass protests on his doorstep are a great way to bound the principal character to the sole environment of his home. Looking after him is indigenous housemaid Valeriana (María Telón), his wife, his daughter and his granddaughter. Not all of them can be attentive to the varying needs of a multi-generational family, so an extra pair of hands is brought in the form of another Kaqchiquel-speaker, Alma (María Mercedes Coroy).

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We quickly connect the dots that Alma is La Llorona, here to unnerve Enrique with her cries in the night and ensure he faces the consequences for his murderous deeds. With her flowing white dress, unblinking stare and jet-black Rapunzel hair, it's a mystery how the family don't suspect anything of her, accepting her obviously-a-ghost appearance as her default work/live attire. This gives her an advantage that works in tandem with Enrique turning a blind eye to his past, ignoring any possibility that it'll literally come back to haunt him.

la llorona review
On the contrary to the aforementioned studio feature, Bustamente forgoes horror movie conventions for an alternative experience that’s even more rattling, with a profound understanding that the horror lies in the very real history of Guatemala more than in the legend of the Weeping Woman. Speaking purely from a business perspective, this film is too methodically unorthodox to be considered horror and not plot-driven enough to be a thriller, thereby putting it in a gray area that some may describe as "elevated horror." It’s very flexible with genre but to set realistic expectations for mainstream audiences, the general classification for La Llorona would probably be drama - very suspenseful drama.

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Bustamente drowns us with tension but the payoffs aren't as big as one would hope for. Adhering quite strictly to his "more of a drama, less of a horror" approach, the filmmaker doesn't give us a particularly flashy climax, opting to resolve his narrative in a tidy way of combining folktale horror with a political statement. My expectations for the finale might just be the conventional moviegoer in me talking, trained to expect a true freakout in the final act, so it’s hard to say the third act is flawed for this particular reason but harder not to feel such a way.

la llorona review
Possibly in an appeal to the big studio, the director leaves the door open for a continuation. Hollywood loves to make sequels and, acknowledging the downsides of working within the American studio system, I do hope that La Llorona can give Hollywood-sized opportunities to Bustamente. To get these financiers knocking on Bustamente's door, festival-goers should go out and encourage casuals that this is the only La Llorona film that matters.

A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.




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