The Curse of La Llorona (2019) – movie review

Since this review comes out one day before the worldwide theatrical release of The Curse of La Llorona, it will obviously feature no spoilers nor any important plot point will be given away. You can read it and nothing that happens in the movie will be ruined for you.

Based on a folktale from Mexico, this movie follows a social worker (Linda Cardellini) and her two young kids (a boy and a girl) trying to save their lives from an evil spirit: la Llorona (which means “the weeping woman”).

The main reason why I went out of my way to get an early screening of The Curse of La Llorona is the movie’s director: Michael Chaves, who has no prior experience in feature-length filmmaking, will be at the helm of The Conjuring 3 in 2020, thus I wanted to see what he could bring to the table of such a successful horror franchise.

Continue reading and check my final grade below… 

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Despite the director’s inexperience, one can tell how much care was put in the presentation of The Curse of La Llorona (at least in regard to the first half): the camera-work is lively and creative, there are a few impressive transitions (one involving a transparent umbrella by a swimming pool sent chills down my spine!), the massive reliance on jump-scares is compensated by how well-timed (and sometimes effective) they are. Yet, the beginning of this movie does something with children than most PG-13 horror flicks will only imply off screen.

Also, Linda Cardellini as the main character provides quite a solid performance and makes her lines sound believable even when they’re very silly and poorly written.

Aside from these noteworthy aspects, however, The Curse of La Llorona quickly devolves into an uninspired, dumb, by the numbers, and just plain bad horror flick.

When I listed Cardellini’s performance as a positive, I’m not even sure if that depends on the fact that she’s the only person in the movie who can even remotely act. In fact, the acting in La Llorona is atrociously bad: every performance is either insanely wooden or pathetically overacted. The child actors, here, are awful: if your movie spends most of the screen time on kids, you better hire kids who can act: horror films like Blumhouse’s Stephanie and Mike Flanagan’s Before I Wake (not to mention classics like The Shining, The Omen, The Sixth Sense or Poltergeist) made sure to get the best performance possible out of those young children. As a result, the acting in those films never take you out of the experience.

When it comes to La Llorona, one can immediately tell the kids were only told to go from point A to point B: they do things without understanding what they’re doing and, as a result, they look like blocks of wood with no personality, no character, no emotions whatsoever.

If the kids can be excused for… well, being kids, what’s the excuse for the two priests? Or for the police officer who’s friend with Cardellini’s character? Or for Patricia, the “first victim” or la Llorona?

As though the performances weren’t enough to baffle the viewer, La Llorona feels extremely forced and unrealistic. Obviously, a movie centred around a ghost-like urban legend can’t be realistic story-wise, but you’d expect the reactions and the dialogue to flow naturally and convey the desperation these characters are going through.

Instead, the script (written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis) is so lazy, uninspired and paper-thin that everything feels forced and exposition-driven.

Let me give you two examples: the husband of Cardellini’s character was a police officer who died, leaving her alone with the two kids. How does The Curse of La Llorona communicate this information to the audience? It has a cop literally saying to Linda Cardellini: “Your husband was a police officer”. Who talks like that in real life? How lazy can you be not to come up with a better way to deliver the same information without treating the viewer as a braindead zombie?

The second example revolves around these awful kids: when la Llorona starts tormenting them, going as far as physically hurting them, they hide this fact from their own mother and they come up with excuses (“I fell down the stairs”) to justify their injuries. This is simply insulting: every sane person would know that the first thing kids do when they’re scared is running to their mom and cry! Hell, when I was 4 or 5 I would run to my mom even if I heard a squirrel outside!

Unfortunately, even the best qualities this movie has to offer are thrown out of the window during the last third of the runtime. The final 30 minutes of The Curse of La Llorona are bloated with poorly rendered CGI, cringe-worthy comic relief, embarrassing performances, awful lighting (the movie gets so dark it’s hard to even see what’s going on), conveniently dumb character choices.

To add insult to injury, the marketing for The Curse of La Llorona is borderline fraudulent: the production company tried to pull off what Split did just before the end credits. In fact, in the middle of the film, there is big reveal about what this movie really is (or I’d better say what this movie is really part of) that truly felt deceptive. I’m sure that some people will forget how bad this film was simply because of that fan-service reveal, but to me it only makes La Llorona feel cheaper and worse. It’s an offensive gimmick that tries to win audiences over by making them overlook the lack of quality in this picture, and it’s – for me – unforgivable.

In conclusion, it’s important for you to keep in mind two things: if you were looking forward to watching The Curse of La Llorona, don’t let this review stop you from doing so. I would suggest waiting until it gets released on VOD, though. Secondly, and most importantly, I still think this director can do a good job with The Conjuring 3: as long as the studio interference won’t be massive and the writers will put effort, Michael Chaves can make something worthwhile.

The Curse of La Llorona                              4/10

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