It’s unfortunate that the person who reinvigorated the horror genre is now killing it. After directing the cult hit Saw (2004), Malaysian-born Australian filmmaker James Wan seemed like he’d be just another one-hit wonder when he made two forgetful films in 2007. But he followed up with the fairly good Insidious (2010), and the excellent first Conjuring (2013). Both films were atmospheric, scary, innovative and fan favourites.
Sadly, it soon became apparent that James Wan was more interested in cutting paychecks than making good films. Each sequel to the two above-mentioned films was worse than the next. Quickly, James Wan stopped directing the films and instead was happy to produce as the franchise spawned multiple spin-offs.
Director Michael Chaves’ The Curse of La Llorona has all the typical problems of an installment from the James Wan universe. It also has the usual positives. In the context of the cinematic universe, watching it is like eating another packet of the same ‘ole’ chips with a slightly different flavor.
The Curse of La Llorona offers plenty of brain-dead moments, where characters behave stupidly only for our amusement
As usual, the film is made on a low budget and is directed by a relatively new director. While it’s nice of James Wan and Warner Bros. Pictures to keep giving promising filmmakers work, it’s also clear that their wings are clipped because The Curse of La Llorona strictly follows many of the tropes and styling of its sister films.
Worst still, it badly appropriates a genuinely unsettling piece of Mexican folklore. The real myth, of course, is of La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) who, in a fit of madness over a deceitful spouse, drowned her two children in the river. Later, she began abducting other children, mistaking them for her own, until she killed them as well.
Had The Curse of La Llorona focused on this and been set in Mexico, it would have been a far more compelling film. Unfortunately, the filmmakers were only interested in using the legend for their Hollywood audience. Here, the film takes place 300 years after the incident and is set in Los Angeles.
Without giving too much away, the story centers round a social worker named Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini), who is investigating the tragic disappearance of two boys. When she gets a call about two bodies being found drowned near a river, she goes to investigate, taking her own two children Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) along. Soon, La Llorona latches on to the family.
Now, I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking about it too. Who in their right mind, after getting a phone call about two dead young kids, decides to take their own children along? Yes, she tells them to stay in the car, and yes, it makes for the scariest scene in the film, but still.
The Curse of La Llorona offers plenty of other brain-dead moments as well, where characters behave stupidly only for our amusement. It also employs many of the genre clichés, such as a priest who can help fight the evil spirit and more.
The frights are the customary cheap jump-scare nonsense, though admittedly a few worked on me. The performances are top-notch though. Everyone, from the actors behind the Garcia family to a former priest played by Rafael Olvera, really sells the script. Regrettably, it isn’t enough to elevate The Curse of La Llorona from its mediocre roots.