The Curse of La Llorona (2019) Review
IT’S TIME TO “CONJURE”
UP SOME NEW IDEAS
The Conjuring Universe has definitely had plenty of spooks and scares throughout its five released motion pictures; offering up horror tales of wicked demons, malevolent spirts, and the frightful individuals that get caught up in their crosshairs. Beginning back in 2013, with the release of The Conjuring (based on the real-life accounts of the Amityville horror story), the franchise has built upon the supernatural horrors for moviegoers to indulge their minds, providing a film universe of jump scare thrills and paranormal anomalies (from demonic spirts to possession) within each new feature. This includes the flagship movies of The Conjuring and its 2016 sequel The Conjuring 2 (revolving around the paranormal activities investigations from the Ed and Lorraine Warren) as well as the spin-off properties, which consisted of the story of a possessed doll with the releases of 2014’s Annabelle and its 2017 sequel Annabelle: Creation and the demonic spirt of Valek in 2018’s release titled The Nun. Collectively, these movies, while not pure cinematic horror gold, do have to plenty of fun within the current horror genre and have found a fanbase amongst moviegoers. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures (New Line Cinema) and director Michael Chaves present the sixth entry within this shared horror supernatural universe with the film The Curse of La Llorona. Does this latest entry in the Conjuring Universe finds its supernatural footing in today’s filmscape or is has the idea of an interconnected film world of spirts and other ghostly apparitions run its course?
Set in Los Angeles (circa 1973) widower Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) is struggling to balance her life; juggling raising her two kids, Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) and Chris (Roman Christou), while also working as a social worker. While working on a “check-in case” with one Patricia Alvarez, an acquaintance who’s been reported for abuse, Anna enters the woman’s apartment to find the two endangered children hidden in a closet, warned not to open the door. Ignoring the advice, Anna exposes the two kids to the wrath of La Llorona, a supernatural spirt who preys on children, with designs to drawn the youths she haunts. Skeptical of the poltergeist story of vengeful female ghost attacking children, Anna is soon attacked by La Llorona, who curses Samantha and Chris in the process, marking them as her targets. Unsure who to turn to on how to dispatch the malicious ghost from haunter her family, Anna finds her way to Father Perez (Tony Amendola) for guidance, who points her to the services of Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), a man who’s dealt with spiritual identities before. With Rafael’s assistance, Anna prepares to fight back against La Llorona, hoping to save her children from a watery death.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…..I’m not the hugest fan of horror movie genre. While I would never discredit anyone (be it a movie buff or just a causal moviegoer), who finds a special interest with the genre, but it really isn’t my “cup of tea” sort of speak. Maybe because my imagination is very much wild and active or maybe the simple fact that I’m into people getting killed or being terrorizes (or simply all the blood, gore, and guts), but its just not me. Still, there are a few horror movies out there that I do like, with some classic ones (like the original 1978 Halloween) and some of the more recent ones like Crimson Peak, A Quiet Place, and 2017’s IT, which still (as of the date of writing this review) holds its place as my personal favorite horror flick. Plus, I’ve been seeing several others horror movies of late (i.e. Us and Pet Sematary). So, who knows…… maybe I should start watching a few horror movies out there (haha….I do keep on saying that). As for The Conjuring movies, I do find them quite interesting. While I’ve seeing the two original Conjuring Movies (as well as 2018’s spin-off film The Nun), I still haven’t seeing the two Annabelle movies (I do plan to sometimes soon). Still, these films I do have quite appealing, with some truly horror-filled moments (a few not so-scary ones), but definitely provide plenty of atmospheric elements and a plethora of jump scares to make any horror fan “jump” with glee.
This brings me back to talking about The Curse of La Llorona, the sixth and latest cinematic chapter within the Conjuring Universe. Like many out there, I do remember hearing about several new “Conjuring” movies being planned…such as the third Conjuring film (The Conjuring 3) and the third Annabelle movie (Annabelle Comes Home), but really didn’t hear much of The Curse of La Llorona. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about the movie (via online), with only a few snippets hear and there. Even the film’s movie trailer, which was pretty good, I saw sparse, viewing it twice, which is quite strange since I go to the movies every week and see a wide range of different films. Regardless of that, I do have to admit that the movie (from what I saw of it during its marketing campaign) looked pretty interesting and definitely got my attention. So, I decided to see the movie (a week after its theatrical release) to see if the movie was worth the addition into this shared cinematic universe. What did I think of it? Despite a fun horror premise and some other nuances, The Curse of La Llorona lacks depth and feels more like a “funhouse” ride through some of the commonplace tropes of the Conjuring Universe features. It definitely has its merits (in some areas), but it recycles ideas rather than creating new thrills, scares, and supernatural excitement.
The Curse of La Llorona is directed by Michael Chaves, whose previous directorial works includes The Maiden, Chase Champion, and Regen. It should also be noted that Chaves is already setup to return to this Conjuring universe after this particular by directing the long-awaited Conjuring 3 (a set release date for 2020). Thus, it feels that Chaves is giving a “test run” with this particular movie by flexing his horror movie magic (as a director) before getting the chance to produce something a bit more palpable (considering that the Conjuring 3 is more in line with main story thread of this horror movie universe). As for The Curse of La Llorona, Chaves does somewhat succeed in branching out this cinematic world, creating a new spin-off endeavor that takes us (the viewers) away from much of the already established film world (i.e. away from the Warrens). Chaves also jumps right into the movie, charging full ahead in presenting motion picture that’s runs “fast and furious” of horror movies. That’s not to say that movie is not entertaining as it feels like a rollercoaster type movie, with Chaves keeping the film’s pacing rather tight and never really deviating away from the main story thread of Anna, her children, and the curse from the La Llorona herself. Speaking of which, I did find it quite interesting of the whole concept of La Llorona aka the “Weeping Woman”. I have heard of the folklore legend of La Llorona a few times and was a small reason for seeing this movie. Of course, the movie takes some liberties with the legend, but the essential setup of the supernatural creature remains. There are a few minor nitpicks I do have about the character of La Llorona (I’ll mention them below), but the character ultimately works for what Chaves desires for the movie. Lastly, the Chaves does have few scary moments that really do work in bringing the tension up (i.e. the creaking of a door, the sound of dripping water, the soft weeping of La Llorona), which to add to those particular moments of fright. Thus, Chaves’s efforts make The Curse of La Llorona a breezy horror feature (clocking in around 93 minutes long) that’s easily accessible to non-Conjuring viewers and easy to digest in viewing it.
Looking at its technical presentation, The Curse of La Llorona showcases a decent theatrical look within its overall look and feel. I’m not saying that the movie “looks” bad or anything like that, but rather it looks to be an industry standard for a horror feature film project. Thus, the efforts made by Alyssa Hill (art direction), Melanie Jones (production designs), and Sandra Skora (set decorations) are good, but nothing particular stands out (neither really great nor really bad…. just even keel). Additionally, the cinematographer by Michael Burgress gets the job done with a few decent camera shots and cinematic nuances that “draw in” the effectiveness of a theatrical presentation. This is especially noticeable (and used quite well) in two particular sense, which sees La Llorona encounter Anna’s two children. Lastly, the music score for the film, which was composed by Joseph Bishara is also really and (much like a lot of horror movies) plays an instrumental part in building an eerie presence in many scenes as well as building tension-filled moments.
Unfortunately, The Curse of La Llorona fails in some critical areas, which hold the feature back from being memorable in both as a standalone feature film and as a favorable addition the cinematic world of the Conjuring. For starters, the movie doesn’t really bring much to the “Conjuring” table. What do I mean? Well, despite bringing a new supernatural entity that joins the other “Conjuring” creatures, the movie feels very much like what’s been before. Chaves does very little to “spice up” the film’s narrative with scares and leaves much of the film’s tension filled moments in the sparse moments. Like I said above, some actually do work and do great some sudden scares, but a lot of moments hardly find the thrills to scare. Additionally, Chaves does employ an overabundance of the now (currently) commonplace usage of “jump scares”. Personally, it’s okay to use them and do feel appropriate for a horror feature film, but most modern horror movies nowadays use them as a “gimmick” and “crutch” to rely heavily on. This is most prevalent in The Curse of La Llorona, which definitely relies heavy on this particular tactic. Thus, the actually scare of the “jump scares’ lessens the impact of it all. To be honest, there were only a few moments that were truly scary (at least to me), while the rest were slightly unimpressive. Collectively, the movie has a lot (and I do mean a lot) of Conjuring déjà vu vibe throughout; a sensible sense of “been there, done that” ….and not in a good way. Maybe that’s Chaves’s fault for not interjecting new ideas (as a director) to the proceedings, which really does hinder the movie from being potential great.
Another problem that the movie faces is in the handling of its script, which was penned by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. How so? Basically, the film’s story is quite simplistic and, while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t help strengthen the movie’s narrative being told. The Curse of La Llorona skates by a thinly written bare boned plot that leaves much to be desired. It’s clear what Daughtry and Iaconis want to say about this latest haunt featuring the “weeping woman”, but the plot feels undeveloped with (again) a lot of “been there, done that” and not a whole lot of innovated ideas. You know what I mean…. a poltergeist sprit toys with victims (chaos ensues), a brief moment to breath, another attack (chaos ensues again), an individual who knows spirt handling appears, bates the spirt to come forth for a big climatic moment (more chaos ensues). It’s been down time and time again and can be used (if done properly) by adding a new layer of storytelling to the feature. Unfortunately, the script keeps everything very much “status quo” and does little to add any type new / creative nuances throughout, which makes The Curse of La Llorona quite predictable and formulaic. Plus, the backstory handling for La Llorona is a bit thinly written. The setup is there, but I kind was expecting a bit more of a detailed backstory that what’s presented.
The cast in the movie is what you would expect from a horror film endeavor, with a few recognizable faces (from other projects) as well as a several unfamiliar ones. That being said, most of these cast members for this movie actually do better than the ones involved in 2018’s The Nun. What do I mean? Well, majority of the cast (mostly the principal ones) in The Curse of La Llorona do a good job in selling the film’s dramatic moments more than what was presented (character / acting wise) in the other Conjuring spin-off feature. At the head of the pack is actress Linda Cardellini, who plays the movie’s central protagonist character of Anna Tate-Garcia. Cardellini, known for her roles in Green Book, Hunter Killer, and Bloodline, is actually really good in the movie, playing up Anna as a woman who has dealt with some serious stuff (i.e. as a social worker and with the death of her husband), so there’s more of a sympathetic light pressed on her from the immediately start. Plus, it’s kind of neat to see Cardellini in a larger role that just a supporting one (for most of her career) and she definitely handles the lead spotlight quite well; making Anna a horror protagonist character to follow throughout the movie. Additionally, the young acting talents from Roman Christou (who makes his acting debut in this film) and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen (Self/Less and Enchanted Christmas) are pretty good in the movie as Anna’s two children Chris and Samantha respectfully. Rather than just the classic “innocent youth” of the horror feature, both characters get their moments and do feel more organic than the normal cliché stock-like personas of similar films.
Looking past the Garcia family is the character of Rafael Olvera, a paranormal expert in dealing with supernatural spirits and who is played by actor Raymond Cruz (Training Day and The Closer). Personally, this is the only character that feels cartoonish, with Rafael acting as the stereotypical “spirit warrior” that helps the main characters out. Plus, Cruz’s performance of the characters feels cartoon-ish as well. The other supporting player that makes a lasting impression is the character Patricia Alvarez, who is played by actress Patricia Velasquez (The Mummy and American Family). The character of Alvarez doesn’t amount to much (more of a plot device of sorts), but Velasquez’s performance definitely lends weight to what the movie is trying to project with her (i.e. an unstable woman who has an encounter with La Llorona).
Additionally, actress Marisol Ramirez (Right at Your Door and Circle) plays La Llorona in the movie. While the character herself isn’t really depth beyond being a supernatural and vengeful spirit, Ramirez certainly looks the part and is definitely a creepy appearance whenever she appears on-screen. Rounding out the cast are several minor characters, including actor Sean Patrick Thomas (Barbershop and Save the Last Dance) as Detective Cooper, actress Irene Keng (The Good Doctor and Grey’s Anatomy) as Donna, and actor Paul Rodriguez (The Brothers Garcia and Street Dreams) as Officer Claro. These characters are (again) minor ones and have their one or two moments in the movie, but are mostly “window dressing” for the feature. Then again….i never really expected these characters to be anything but minor importance to the movie.
As for the connection between this movie and the rest of the Conjuring universe, it’s tenuous at best. It certainly does fit within this film world of paranormal activities of spirits and possession, but the only real link is the cameo-like appearance of Annabelle’s Father Perez, who is once again reprised by actor Tony Amendola (The Mask of Zorro and Stargate SG-1). To be honest, it’s almost like The Curse of La Llorona was originally setup as a standalone and the studio just simply wanted to added it the Conjuring universe towards the end of its production.
The Conjuring creatures of Bathsheba, Annabelle, Valek gets an new evil addition in the movie The Curse of La Llorona. Director Michael Chaves latest film sees the return to the Conjuring world, setting in-motion a series of events of another paranormal chance-encounter of poltergeist evil that terrifies a family. While the acting is fine and there are a few standout moments, majority of the feature feels redundant, especially a bare bones story, an over usage of stereotypical jump scares, a “pain by numbers” plot progression, and just simply lacking grit and vigor within its execution. To me, this movie was okay. It definitely had its moments and La Llorona did intrigued slightly (as a supernatural spectral being), but the film itself was exactly the best in both as horror feature or as a part of the Conjuring universe. I kind of was expecting more from this movie, but the end result gets the job done…in a mediocre “run-of-the-mill” endeavor. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a “Rent It”. There might be something there for horror fans out there to see this movie, but it isn’t a “must see” film…just simply wait for it to come on its home release or digital download to view. As stated above, The Conjuring universe is continuing to expand with the releases of 2019’s Annabelle Comes Home and 2020’s Conjuring 3; promising more supernatural / paranormal encounters of these cinematic universe of demonic possession and malevolent spirts. However, The Curse of La Llorona, while an adequate endeavor, skates on the outskirts of the franchise; indicating new and creative ideas are needed rather than simple “jump scares” in order to deliver truly frightful scares and engaging horror narratives for viewer to invest in.
3.0 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: April 19th, 2019
Reviewed On: May 6th, 2019
The Curse of La Llorona is 93 minutes long and is rated R for violence and terror