THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA
Starring: Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez
Director: Michael Chaves
Writers: Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis
To some [it’s just a folktale].
The Curse of La Llorona (2019) retells a popular legend from Mexican folklore. As the legend goes, a man cheated on his vain wife with a younger woman. The wife, in her rage, decided to drown their children — the source of her husband’s joy. When she came to, she realized what she had done and drowned herself as result. And, rumor has it that still today you can hear the weeping woman searching for her lost children.
The recent film adaptation retells the legend beautifully. As it opens, we are in Mexico in the 1600s, witnessing a dramatization of the legend. From there, we jump to Los Angeles in the 1970s, where we are introduced to Anna Tate-Garcia — played by Linda Cardellini (Bloodline, Gravity Falls) — a young, recently-widowed social worker. When one of her cases takes her to the home of Patricia Alvarez, as played by Patricia Velásquez (The Mummy, Arrested Development), she discovers that, what appears to be a child abuse case, has a ton more — dare I say supernatural — layers to it. Children die. Revenge is vowed. And La Llorona arrives to further shatter the family that Anna and her two children — Chris, played by Roman Christou, and Samantha, played by Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen — are trying to rebuild after their father (a cop’s) sudden death.
To be honest, going into the film, my expectations of The Curse of La Llorona were very, very low. The trailers looked gimmicky, the acting mediocre, and the narrative predictable. However, it’s a horror film, so I wanted to give it a shot. Also, it’s part of The Conjuring universe (timely, too, considering Lorraine Warren’s recent passing), so that was at least something to give me hope. To my surprise, both during, and now after, the film, I find myself thinking that it was actually a decent supernatural horror film. The film deals in the large-scale matters of Heaven and Hell, Angels and Demons, while also giving us a small-scale story concerning a family of likeable characters.
The acting was very good, and Linda Caredellini (Anna Tate-Garcia) and Patricia Velásquez (Particia Alvarez) deserve special mention for their extremely moving portrayals of mother figures. The children were convincingly scared, and I myself jumped more times than I have watching a movie in a long time. Sometimes La Llorona (played by Marisol Ramirez, known for her roles in films like Circle and Right At Your Door) had the appearance of “Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow” or “WWE’s The Undertaker” — my husband’s words not mine — but for the most part she was quite terrifying to look at with her waterlogged body and piercing yellow eyes. Despite Raymond Cruz’s (The Closer, Major Crimes) underwhelming performance as Rafael Olvera — the ex-priest, full-time demon hunter/paranormal investigator — and Sean Patrick Thomas’s (Barbershop, Save the Last Dance) confusing role as Detective Cooper, all in all it was a great cast of characters. Moreover, The 1970s setting, special effects, and smart camera work all helped to further the film’s appeal.
I first heard the legend of La Llorona in my first folklore class ever (“Folklore of the Americas”), over 10 years ago.* It stuck with me, and this film reminded me why. La Llorona is more than a story about a broken marriage. It borders on very real-life cases about child abuse and neglect, even women drowning their own children, and it also speaks to all manners of postpartum depression. There is one scene in the film in which Anna is wildly swinging a bat at La Llorona’s shadowy figure, only seconds later to be replaced by her children — who consequently are (however temporarily) put in danger by their own mother.
Accordingly, The Curse of La Llorona could have easily taken a more psychologically-driven horror angle, but, of course, that might have failed miserably. The film succeeds, largely, by staying strictly within the realm of jump scare-filled, supernatural horror — all the while giving us just enough emotional affect to demonstrate that it is very aware of what lies underneath such a dark legend.
*As a side note, it is worth mentioning that the legend of La Llorona — like many a folktale and legend — has numerous incarnations in cultures all over the world. For example, there is even a local Shoshone version that takes place in Idaho (where I currently reside) about Native American Water Babies.