The Curse of La Llorona – Film Review
Directed by Michael Chaves
Starring Linda Cardellini, Patricia Velasquez, Raymond Cruz
Review by David Turpin
After last year’s scrappy, campy, but very profitable instalment The Nun, producer James Wan’s series of spin-offs from his own Conjuring films goes back to basics with the serviceable, unsurprising Curse of la Llorona – the most exotic feature of which is its daringly un-Anglicised title. This correspondent draws the line at accepting Wan and co.’s insistence that their grab-bag of loosely related B-movies constitutes a ‘universe’, but if one were to grudgingly accept the cosmic analogy, The Curse of la Llorona is very emphatically a satellite – which is, at least, preferable to a cloud of poisonous gas.
Linda Cardellini acquits herself as Anna Tate-Garcia, a widowed social worker in 1970’s Los Angeles who fails to heed the warnings of a distraught mother (Patricia Velasquez), and soon finds herself up to her turtleneck in supernatural malfeasance courtesy of La Llorona – or ‘The Weeping Woman’ – an overbearing wraith with designs on Anna’s children (Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). After a series of narrow escapes, Anna enlists the help of shaman Rafael (a game Raymond Cruz), and they set about giving the spectre the heave-ho.
That’s about it, as far as plot goes – particularly as La Llorona herself is given a disappointingly generic backstory (she’s Medea, basically). Still, one has come to expect a certain level of baseline competence from Conjuring spin-offs, and director Michael Chaves (who has recently taken over direction of the third Conjuring film proper) doesn’t embarrass himself in that department. The requisite jumps and judders are delivered – even if the majority of them have plainly been conceived as stand-alone ‘trailer moments’.
One can’t help but want the best for Linda Cardellini – an actress who appeared in last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner (the turgid Green Book), as well as what is likely to be this year’s most lucrative film (Avengers: Endgame), and yet still never seems to get much of a bite at the apple. She does her best with what she’s given here – though, in all honestly, much of her part consists of running up and down stairs. Patricia Velasquez goes for broke with her raving lunatic role, recalling Kate del Castillo’s manic turn in Eric Zonca’s brilliant Julia (2008) – although, as with Zonca’s film, La Llorona indulges in a certain conflation of Latin American motherhood with hysteria that feels a little cheap.
In fact, perhaps the most interesting aspect of La Llorona is the cultural subtext that bubbles – likely entirely unintentionally – beneath its surface. As her double-barrelled name suggests, Anna’s late husband was himself of Latin American heritage – which gives La Llorona’s attempts to ‘claim’ her children an intriguing echo of the ‘return of the repressed’. If one were being very ambitious, one might even read the film as an extended metaphor for a mother of mixed-race children’s encounter with that which is unknowable to her in her own offspring. Tellingly, almost all the Spanish in the film is presented unsubtitled – to preserve its ‘mystique’, one presumes – while Anna herself delivers her lone word (‘Hola’, naturally) as if the language has never crossed her lips before. Whether one is troubled by the film’s narrative of the white mother exorcising the malign influence of the cultural ‘other’ depends entirely on how seriously one wishes to take this grab bag of things that go bump in Dolby Surround. To those concerned about its deeper implications, this correspondent can only answer that The Curse of La Llorona is the kind of film in which a shaman tells a mother her children are being pursued by “a dark spirit, forsaken by humanity”, only for her to earnestly cry “I’m gonna take them to a motel!”