In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
The Curse of La Llorona begins in 1673 where we meet a young woman with two children. She promptly drowns both children, thus giving us the background we need to understand the next 90 minutes or so of extremely boring cinema. It’s fair to say that the film peaks here in its opening moments, but it’s also fair to say that the opening moments aren’t very good. We then move forward to 1973, where we meet Anne Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardelini) a widow whose hyphenated last name is how we’re going to deal with the fact that a white woman is at the center of a tale based around Mexican folklore. Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t think having a Mexican lead is required, but if you felt the need to do the work at all, you’re going to have to do all of the work. Instead, we get a hyphenated last name and a bevy of Hispanic characters relegated to the sidelines.
Anne is a social worker, and after the mysterious deaths of two children under her care, Anne soon finds herself the newest target of La Llorona, the ghost version of the woman who drowned her children back in 1673 and is now killing living children to replace them or something. Anne must now protect her offspring from the angry spirit, and to do so she’s going to need all the help she can get. Help comes in the form of a former priest (Raymond Cruz) who lives “on the fringe of science and religion” according to another priest who shows up in two clearly tacked-on sequences designed to canonically connect this film to the Conjuring universe after the fact.
It’s stupid, I promise.
My guess is that this was a middle-of-the-road horror movie with visual branding similar to those under the Conjuring umbrella, and as such, the film was retrofit with some lame connective tissue and haphazardly tossed to the multiplex. Then again, even without the universe tie-in, The Curse of La Llorona is a dud in its own right, presenting telegraphed jump scare after telegraphed jump scare until the credits roll. And after the first jump scare, none of the rest work. Why? Because they are all the exact same jump scare. It goes like this:
Someone thinks they see La Llorona.
They either shield or avert their gaze from the spot where they thought they saw La Llorona.
They turn back to where they thought they saw La Llorona and wouldn’t you know it? La Llorona is there!
La Llorona screams and raises her arms toward the victim.
Lather, rinse, and repeat ad nauseam until feature length runtime is reached.
Much like The Nun, the previous entry in this cinematic universe, The Curse of La Llorona appears to have been lit by nobody. Flat, gray, and devoid of any sort of visual flair, director Michael Chavez may as well have pointed the camera at a wall for 90 minutes. At least then the liberal application of handheld camera wouldn’t have registered as so egregiously difficult to look at. Here’s a question: Why set your movie in 1973 if you’re not going to use any period detail to liven things up? My initial guess was that they set it here in order to tie it in to Annabelle, but that runs contradictory to my assumption that such details were added after the fact. So I guess the period setting was implemented so that the lead could wear high-waisted bell bottom jeans.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the film is the inconsistent way that La Llorona behaves. Sometimes you can trap her behind a door or a wall. Other times she can teleport to wherever she needs to be. Sometimes religious artifacts have an effect on her. Other times they do not. Sometimes she’ll kill people mercilessly. Other times she will let people go after messing with them out for a bit. Her magical medallion either gives her great strength or depletes her of it, depending entirely upon what the film needs in the moment.
I say this as if the film has any idea what it “needs’ at any given moment.
This is cynical, committee-based filmmaking in every way, designed solely to be juuuuust good enough to get a few bucks out of enough people to help fund the next chapter in this increasingly diluted cinematic universe. My guess is that they’ll find yet another half-formed shrieker, add a scene where someone mentions the nun and call it a day. It’ll be like The Cloverfield Paradox, and it’ll be just as good, which is to say, not good at all.
The Curse of La Llorona opens in Philly theaters today.