Release Date(s)2019 (August 6, 2019)
Studio(s)New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. Pictures (Warner Home Video)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
The Curse of La Llorona is director Michael Chaves’ horror film based on the Mexican folktale about the “crying woman” of the title, who drowned her children and now hunts for others to subject them to the same fate. A prologue set in Mexico in 1673 tells of a wife whose husband leaves her for a younger woman. Killing his children, the abandoned wife decides, would be the ultimate payback, and she drowns them. Consumed by guilt, she drowns herself, and her ghost roams the earth in search of other children to replace her own.
Skip ahead to Los Angeles in 1973, though the year has no special significance. Anna (Linda Cardellini), the recently widowed mother of two young children, is a social worker. She visits the home of troubled Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez), who has locked her two boys in a closet to protect them, she says, from La Llorona, the Crying Woman. Soon thereafter, the boys are dead and La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez) is focusing her malevolence on Anna’s kids. Anna dismisses her children’s visions as childhood imagination until she encounters the demon ghost herself.
She seeks help from an elderly priest, Father Perez (Tony Amendola), who sends her to an ex-priest-turned-shaman, Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz). Convinced that La Llorona is a real danger, he sets out to protect Anna and her kids.
The movie owes much to The Exorcist, The Others, The Shining, and many other films about malevolent supernatural entities. The basis of the legend is treated respectfully in the otherwise routine script. The best aspect is the title monster, a creature with a desiccated face, eyes weeping black tears, and claw-like blackened hands. Attired in what appears to be a moldy, muddied wedding dress, she pops up unexpectedly, creating instant jump scares. These cannot compensate for a lack of suspense, primarily because we’re not invested in the characters in peril. There are, however, a few well-crafted set pieces that stand out.
One features the two children alone in a car at night when La Llorona tries to get to them, appearing at one window after another, managing to roll down windows as the kids try to keep her out. Another involves La Llorona trying to enter the house, which has just been ghost-proofed by shaman Olvera. There is tension in both sequences, but the rest of the film coasts on horror flick clichés.
Ms. Cardellini is an odd casting choice. She never quite inhabits Anna or adequately projects the terror the character is experiencing. Her acting is transparent and unconvincing. As the shaman, Cruz brings authority to the role, which lends gravity and a sense of dire peril to the proceedings. As the mother whose kids are lost to La Llorona, Patricia Velasquez infuses pathos into the role and hovers between what appears to be mental instability and motherly protectiveness. Hers is the best performance in the film.
Director Chaves apparently believes that the key to a successful horror film is to keep every scene dark or in deep shadow. The problem is that when it’s time for genuine scare moments, the darkness fails to contribute to the creepy atmosphere. Darkness not used judiciously has little effect. Other bits that provide an eerie mood include a rocking horse moving by itself, Anna’s long walk through a darkened apartment, a sleepwalking boy, sudden gusts of wind, lamps that go out by themselves, odd noises, papers mysteriously scattered about, and a creaky door.
The appearances of La Llorona are spaced out well, though the movie starts very slowly. In a 93-minute film, this is an opportunity missed. Extending the prologue to offer more details on the legend might have framed the modern story better.
The Blu-ray release, featuring 1080p resolution, is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.4: 1. Though he shot most scenes in reduced light for dramatic effect, director Chaves makes use of multiple candles when the shaman attempts to exorcise La Llorona. At one point, long, green-lit corridors provide an otherworldly look. A rainy night sequence (is any horror film complete without one?) adds extra visual interest. Appearances by La Llorona are quick and generally involve the ghastly creature snarling, screaming, reaching out with long dead arms, and insane eyes glaring wildly. Ms. Ramirez goes all out to make the character a memorable monster in this R-rated film.
Audio is Dolby Atmos True High Definition. Audio tracks, in 5.1 Dolby Digital, include English, French, and Spanish. Available subtitles: English, French, and Spanish. Dialogue is consistently clear. Sound effects, both obvious and subtle, help to create a horror-worthy atmosphere. The ghost’s frightening screams, a struggle underwater, stormy night rain and thunder, and even the sound of an alarm clock are calculated to provide goose bumps. When the shaman is going through his ritual, delicate sounds of vials clinking, powders being sifted, and liquids being stirred dominate. Music is used sparingly. The film doesn’t resort to shock chords to make us jump, a common but annoying practice in many horror movies.
Bonus features on the 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include 3 featurettes, deleted scenes, and storyboards. There is also a Digital code on a paper insert found within the package.
The Myth of La Llorona – The basis of the film is found in Mexican folklore. La Llorona means “the wailing (or crying) woman.” Some people believe the legend goes back to the time of the explorer Cortez. A woman drowns her children to get back at her husband, who has run off with a younger woman. She kills what he loves most, goes mad, and drowns herself. Her spirit roams the Earth in search of children to replace her own. Hispanic children were told that if they didn’t behave, La Llorona would come for them. Cast members Raymond Cruz and Tony Amendola discuss the legend.
Behind the Curse – The basis of the legend is explained. Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, and Patricia Velasquez offer their thoughts on both the folklore and the script. Cardellini notes that when she read the script, “I found myself very spooked.” Velasquez was happy to see that the script was “very respectful of the Hispanic side.” The producer and director researched the legend before writing the script. Tony Amendola used the same rosary beads that his character Father Perez used in Annabelle. The film was always meant to feature an outsider – someone who wasn’t brought up with the myth and would see events with eyes of discovery. Cruz notes that he had to bring authenticity to his performance so audiences would believe the story. Production designer Melanie Jones discusses dressing the sets, especially the one featuring the shaman’s rituals.
The Making of a Movie Monster – The ghost creature is not created by CGI. The application of make-up was a 3-hour process. First, make-up was applied, then hair and hair extensions, and finally contact lenses, which gave actress Marisol Ramirez tunnel vision. Gage Munster, the special effects make-up artist, describes the lengthy process. Costume designer Megan Spatz explains how she came up with the dress that La Llorona wears. She wanted to create a timeless quality and avoid setting the design in a specific period.
Deleted Scenes – Six deleted scenes are shown:
1. Raphael’s Shop
2. Chris Shoot, Cooper, Lock-up Gun
3. Extended Welfare Scene
4. Patricia Enters House
5. Warren’s Hand Off
6. Church Ending
Storyboards – A storyboard is an artist’s sketch of how the scene will look from specific camera angles. The first two scenes below show the actual film with the storyboards of those scenes in the upper left hand corner of the screen. The other five scenes show only the storyboards, along with sound effects, music and, in one case, dialogue.
1. The Car
3. Echo Park
4. The Fountain
6. Hold the Line
7. River Finale
– Dennis Seuling