With The Curse of La Llorona we get the eighth installment in The Conjuring Universe franchise — that’s eight films in just six years — and with that James Wan has almost created a horror subgenre all his own. Like many of the films in this series, the supernatural events are loosely, and I mean very loosely, based on supposed true stories, but even if you believe in possessed dolls and haunted houses, even the most forgiving bullshit detector would wear out its batteries viewing these films. Case in point, The Curse of La Llorona, which is a movie that takes the Latin American folktale of “The Weeping Woman” and then uses it for their own particular ghost story, resulting in a vapid movie that is simply a collection of jump scares and moronic characters.
The legend of “The Weeping Woman” deals with a young woman named Maria (Marisol Ramirez) whose jealousy and rage over her philandering husband caused her to drown her two sons and then commit suicide, two rather unforgivable sins, and ever since her ghost wanders the land looking for children to take as her own. One has to admit that is a pretty good legend to base your ghost story on, such a good story that this phantom has appeared in several movies and television shows to date, but director Michael Chaves and producer James Wan don’t actually care much for the legend itself — only referenced in the film’s cold open — as this film is all about creepy shots of the veiled ghost lurking in the background before it eventually screams and lunges at the camera.
The film’s central character is Hispanic caseworker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) who, upon finding out that two missing children have actually been locked in a closet by their mother (Patricia Velasquez), has the kids quickly removed from the woman’s custody and relocated to a local child services shelter. Now, Anna was told by the “crazed” mother that her boys were locked up for their own protection, but Anna knows this is just ridiculous superstitions and ignores her plea, which then leads to a ghostly “woman in white” appearing at the shelter to spirit away the children and murder them. Later, Anna’s investigation into their deaths involves bringing her own two children to the crime scene — she is a widowed mother of two children: Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen), and she apparently can’t afford a babysitter — and it’s here that La Llorona comes into contact with Chris because the idiot kid doesn’t stay in the car like he was told to, and instead investigates the sound of a woman weeping.
The Curse of La Llorona could easily have been an effective episode of Supernatural, with Sam and Dean tackling the evil spirit in a taught sixty-minute episode, but as a feature film clocking in at 93 minutes, the story comes across as rather padded. We have endless scenes of Anna slowly stalking through her house — even when she has no reason to cautiously tiptoe around her own home — and any moment spent with her two Darwin Award-winning children ranges from painful to pathetic. But easily the worst element of this movie is Anna’s terrible parenting skills. She is a child welfare worker who doesn’t seem all that interested in the welfare of her own kids as she constantly leaves them home alone — sure this film takes place in the 70s and latchkey kids weren’t all that rare, but once a ghost has targeted your child, maybe keep a closer eye on them — and throughout the film, her neglect and stupidity reach ridiculous levels. What parent would leave a small child alone in a bathtub when there is a ghost, one who is known for drowning children, lurking about?
There isn’t much to connect this movie with The Conjuring Universe — the Warrens aren’t called in to help — but Anna does seek out Father Perez (Tony Amendola), who relates the case to his previous experiences with a haunted porcelain doll. So, other than a character from Annabelle appearing in this film, there isn’t anything else to make this connection making this nothing more than a lame marketing gimmick to get a few extra dollars in ticket sales. First-time director Michael Chaves does a serviceable job creating some genuine tension, but the film’s reliance on loud musical stings and jump scares is blatantly cheap and panders to the lowest common denominator of the horror genre, and aside from Anna’s bid for “Worst Parent of the Year,” there are very few fun moments to be found in The Curse of La Llorona, those mostly coming from former priest Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz) and resident Ghostbuster — and this movie is certainly not as bad as 2018’s The Nun. Yet even at a mere 90 minutes long, the premise still feels stretched beyond the breaking point, making the overall film feel thin and unengaging. I’ve seen worse ghost stories, but the tale of “The Weeping Woman” has already been told and told better, so this outing comes across as a rather tired cash grab with little to no soul.
The Curse of La Llorona (2019)
Movie Rank - 5/10
The Curse of La Llorona is a paint-by-numbers horror movie that takes a creepy legend and plasters it with cheap jump scares and unbelievable stupid characters. I’ve had worse times with horror films of the type but I do expect more when James Wan is credited as producer.