02nd May2019

‘The Curse of La Llorona’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez, Marisol Ramirez, Sean Patrick Thomas, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Roman Christou | Written by Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis | Directed by Michael Chaves

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Linda Cardellini takes a starring role in this efficient ’70s-set horror from producer James Wan. Based on a genuine Latin American folk tale, The Curse of La Llorona is not without its problems, but it delivers enough jump scares and suspense moments to keep undemanding Friday night audiences satisfied.

After a prologue set in 17th century Mexico, The Curse of La Llorona opens in 1973 Los Angeles, where recently widowed social worker Anna (Linda Cardellini) is raising her two super-cute young children, Sam and Chris (Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). When two boys under her care are found drowned in the river, the distraught mother, Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasques), blames Anne, claiming she had locked her children in a cupboard to protect them from La Llorona (the Weeping Woman), an evil Mexican spirit said to be searching for children to replace the sons she drowned.

Things quickly go from bad to worse when Patricia places a curse on Anne, making her children La Llorona’s next victims. Sure enough, Sam and Chris begin experiencing spooky visitations from a weeping, scary-faced woman (Marisol Ramirez) clad in a wedding dress. Realising she’s out of her depth, Anne turns to “unorthodox” former preacher Rafael Olvera (Breaking Bad‘s Raymond Cruz) for help, but will his rituals and incantations be enough to save them?

It remains to be seen whether The Curse of La Llorona (pronounced Yor-ON-a) will prove as big a franchise starter as Wan’s other horror hits, but he’s cheekily set the film in The Conjuring universe just in case, as evidenced by a brief glimpse of devil doll Annabelle and a cameo from Tony Amendola as Father Perez.

Despite high profile supporting parts (e.g. Green Book), Linda Cardellini has never quite had the career she deserves, so it’s a treat to see her handed a lead role here. In return, she delivers a compelling performance, balancing palpable maternal instinct with convincing terror and proving she can scream with the best of them.

There’s also strong support from both Christou and Kinchen, while Cruz comes close to stealing the film with an amusingly dry turn as Rafael (“Ta daaa!”, he deadpans, after a particularly impressive trick with some eggs that proves there’s an evil spirit in the house).

Debut director Michael Chaves (who’s since been handed the third Conjuring movie) never quite achieves real terror, but he does deliver a steady stream of suspense sequences, jump scares and suitably creepy moments. He’s aided by some excellent sound design work, which foregrounds suspenseful noises (a child’s breathing, a dripping tap, a billowing curtain) rather than relying on a tell-me-when-to-jump score. On top of that, Chaves has a decent sense of pace and deserves credit for kicking the haunting action off as quickly as he does.

That’s not to say that The Curse of La Llorona is entirely without problems. For one thing, it’s beset with maddening character decisions, in particular both children somehow failing to tell their mother about their separate encounters with a scary dressed-in-white lady whose touch burned their wrists – if they have their reasons, they’re not articulated by the script. Similarly, Anne takes a bafflingly long time to a) spot the burn marks on her own children, and b) connect them to the exact same burn marks she’s already seen on Patricia’s kids, even after she learns of (and sees) La Llorona.

The script is also frustrating in that it has the option to dig into the issue of physical abuse (the burn marks are an obvious metaphor), but completely ignores it. As a result, you can’t help feeling the film would have been stronger with a little more ambiguity in that regard, perhaps with the suggestion that Anne was cracking up and endangering her own children. (She’s halfway there, as her recent bereavement has clearly taken a toll, but the script never commits further than that).

Ultimately, The Curse of La Llorona is an engaging Friday night horror that gets the basic job done, even if it never pushes itself too hard. Don’t rule out a sequel either, as it’s the sort of horror that’s likely to play well with non-discerning multiplex audiences in need of a few jumps and screams.

*** 3/5

The Curse of La Llorona is in UK cinemas from tomorrow, May 3rd.

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