'The Curse of La Llorona' Review: Effective Staging Fails to Save This Generic Thriller From Obscurity

A well-known figure in Mexican folklore, La Llorona, sometimes known as the "Weeping Woman," has brought misfortune to any of those who encounter her. Despite her prominence in Mexican culture, the figure hasn't earned the same prominence in America despite appearances in TV series such as Grimm and Supernatural. In hopes of giving the character the respect she deserves, The Curse of La Llorona puts the figure front and center thanks to the help of The Conjuring producers James Wan and Gary Dauberman. Despite offering a handful of effective jump-scares, the opportunity to craft a compelling film based on the iconic character is completely squandered, with the film delivering a dull and dreadful ordeal that will have you weeping that the credits have yet to roll.

In the 17th Century, La Llorona seeks vengeance against her cheating lover by drowning their children, only to come to her senses and drown herself as well. In 1973, the figure has emerged to find more children to join her, haunting one family after the next as her curse travels from one to the other.

It's easy to see why the filmmakers behind The Conjuring would get involved in the film as it's a relatively generic haunted house film with a period setting, falling in line with various entries in that shared universe. Additionally, it's easy to see why Wan, who directed both Conjuring films, and Dauberman, who directed the upcoming Annabelle Comes Home, kept their distance, as there's little interesting or unique about the film other than the title. Similar to 2005's Boogeyman or last year's Slender Man, the only thing that makes this film stand out is that its title is of a somewhat famous supernatural figure, leading audiences to believe we could see a definitive backstory for a legendary character. Instead, we're given a by-the-numbers horror film that plays out exactly as you expect it to and fails to find any fresh approaches to the familiar narrative.

The film's biggest shortcomings originate with the script, as there's nothing to connect the film to the myth other than an opening prologue. By the end of the first act, the audience and characters are well-aware of what's going on, with the next two acts merely trudging along to get to an eventual conclusion. While the characters and performances are all adequate, there's barely any chemistry between any of them, preventing the audiences from ever getting invested in the story's outcome.

Despite the film's many foundational flaws, director Michael Chaves does his best to deliver expected jump-scares in slightly unconventional ways. It appeared as though a studio directive was to compensate for a lack of an interesting story by delivering a new startling scene every seven minutes, purely in hopes of keeping the audience awake, with Chaves going through the requisite motions yet finding new angles or perspectives to frighten the audience. Audiences will be desensitized to many of these scares by the film's conclusion, with Chaves seemingly exhausting his limitations the script presented him with.

One of the more bizarre elements of the narrative is Tony Amendola's Father Perez, who offers guidance to the troubled family. The actor played Perez in Annabelle, with La Llorona making direct reference to the events of that film, including an appearance from the demonic doll itself. This detail felt entirely arbitrary, serving nothing more than a way for the studio to say, "See? This is a Conjuring film, too! Now you have to like it!" Instead, the moment stands out as a reminder that virtually every other installment in the shared universe is more effective in addition to making us hope any one of the more-compelling characters from another film could appear.

The script completely fails the character, though it's easy to see why Chaves was tapped to direct The Conjuring 3. Being able to craft even a handful of effective surprises from a dull script is quite the accomplishment, with Wan likely seeing the potential Chaves could realize with a much more competent one.

The Curse of La Llorona might be a relatively lifeless ghost story whose shortcomings feel all the more glaring as films like Us and Hereditary deliver mainstream audiences boundary-pushing affairs, though if you have a soft spot for ghost stories, you will get exactly what you're expecting with the forgettable film.


Rating: 2 out of 5

The Curse of La Llorona lands in theaters on April 19th.