The Movie Guru: ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ a low-scare misfire |

The Movie Guru: ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ a low-scare misfire

"The Curse of La Llorona" is (loosely) based on the legend of La Llorona, a woman who drowned her kids a hundred years ago because she was mad at their father.
Warner Bros | Special to the Daily

‘The Curse of La Llorona’

Rated: R for violence and terror

Written by: Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis

Directed by: Michael Chavez

Starring: Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez, Roman Christoum Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Marisol Ramirez, Sean Patrick Thomas and more

Guru’s grade: 1 star

Even the most homicidal ghost deserves better than this.

Part of the same cinematic universe as “The Conjuring” and “Annabelle,” “The Curse of La Llorona” seems to be the franchise’s attempt to reach for bigger, more dramatic scares. Unfortunately, poor writing and ridiculous plot choices hamstring the chills before they can get off the ground. If not for likable main characters and a few solid jump scares, the movie would be most useful as a late evening nap.

The movie is (loosely) based on the legend of La Llorona, a woman who drowned her kids a hundred years ago because she was mad at their father. She immediately killed herself afterward out of guilt, and now wanders around trying to find new kids to drown. According to the movie, she also wears a physical necklace that can be removed and can be stabbed by things that are suitably religious.

For those who don’t know, “The Conjuring” cinematic universe is a loosely connected collection of movies that up to this point are usually based around haunted objects. Previous movies have supposedly been based on true stories, though I doubt that’s the case here, though they’re more connected by style than they are by subject. If your preferred scare comes from objects moving when they’re not supposed to, “The Conjuring” universe is for you.

But the franchise started playing around with splashier scares during portions of 2018’s “The Nun,” which was far from a critical success. Still, they decided to double down on the formula here, replacing it with a shrieking blue woman who grabs kids and drags them off to the nearest body of water. La Llorona steps out into the light so many times that even the filmmakers forgot she was supposed to be incorporeal.

In the end, that proves to be the movie’s biggest failing. The scary thing about a mysteriously moving object isn’t the object itself, but the fact that you have no idea what’s moving it. An unseen villain, or one that just appears as brief flashes, can do anything to you and you’d never be able to anticipate it. There are ways to build dread with a visible villain, though even that mostly involves keeping them out of view. “La Llorona,” however, shows its hand early and leaves itself with nowhere else to go.

Even worse, this fact leads to some really ridiculous plot choices. Other than a few laughs, the biggest response from the audience was a massive collective groan during what was supposed to be a scary moment. On a more fundamental level, the movie’s entire plot would be different if supposedly regular characters spoke in anything more than a cryptic mumble.

The movie’s one saving grace is that we like the characters well enough to care about what happens to them. This is especially true of Raymond Cruz, whose dry humor leads to basically all of the movie’s best moments.

Sadly, none of those moments are actually scary. Poor La Llorona was far more terrifying as a legend.

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