Thursday, May 2, 2019

Movie Review: The Curse of La Llorona

The Curse of La Llorona ** / *****
Directed by: Michael Chaves.
Written by: Mikki Daughtry & Tobias Iaconis.
Starring: Linda Cardellini (Anna Tate-Garcia), Raymond Cruz (Rafael Olvera), Marisol Ramirez (La Llorona), Patricia Velasquez (Patricia Alvarez), Sean Patrick Thomas (Detective Cooper), Roman Christou (Chris), Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen (Samantha), Tony Amendola (Father Perez), Irene Keng (Donna).
We are now six films into the so called Conjuring Universe, and sometime tells me we aren’t going to reach the 22 films currently in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – this universe seems to be running out of steam. After the first two (very good) Conjuring films – both directed by James Wan – the next four have been fairly uneven – with really only the extremely effective Annabelle: Creation being all that good. The original Annabelle failed in trying to be a Rosemary’s Baby type film, and last fall’s The Nun was a kind of by the numbers genre exercise. I kind of hoped that would be the nadir of the series – but now comes The Curse of La Llorona which is an even more uninspired film – and one that’s really stretching the definition of a shared universe. And I don’t know what to make of Annabelle Comes Home – the next in the series due this summer (who knew?) which kind of looks like the first Goosebumps film – but with more death.
The Curse of La Llorona is set in 1973 Los Angeles, where single mother Anna (the ever talented, ever underutilized Linda Cardellini) is raising two kids on a social works salary after her cop husband died a year ago. One of her clients is Patricia Alvarez, and when Anna is sent to her home to check why her two sons haven’t been attending school, she finds them locked in a closet – and over the very loud objections of Patricia – removes them from, the home. Of course, Patricia wasn’t really abusing her sons – she was protecting them from La Llorona – a woman out of Mexican folk tales, who as we saw in the opening, drown her kids when she found out her husband was having an affair – and then grief stricken, killed herself as well. Now, she roams around looking for children to replace the ones she drowned – which she will do by drowning them for some reason.
Of course, we know that it will be Anna’s two children who are targeted next – and we will have to go through the motions of people not believing the creepy things that are happening to them, and everyone around thinking they have gone crazy, or that Anna has become abusive. There will be trips to the Church to talk to a very serious Priest (who is, apparently, the connection to the Conjuring universe, as he was in Annabelle – or so this movie tells me, as I don’t remember him). The priest will hum and ha, and then suggest a guy he knows, who works outside the church – the better to get results. And this will be Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz from Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad) – as a tough guy, but one who knows precisely what spells, chants, charms and beans will stop La Llorona. And we will get a big face off on a dark and stormy night.
To be fair to The Curse of La Llorona, all the movies in this series – the good ones, and the bad ones – are more than a little clichéd. It’s just that at their best, the films have managed to make those clichés work through style, and the commitment of the performances. James Wan is a great director, who knows just how far he can push you before the tension becomes unbearable, and then goes just a little bit further. By comparison, this film was directed by Michael Chaves, making his feature debut – and he just doesn’t have the same chops – not yet, anyway.
In short, this series started as something not original, but extremely well executed, creepy, scary and expertly crafted. Now, in its sixth feature, it’s become as uninspired as any mainstream horror product can become. I hope they can get it back on track – but this one is a dud.

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