Motherhood is a beautiful thing, and yet, painful when exposed to the persecution of life. One of my favourite horror films in recent time on this very theme is Andrés Muschietti’s Mama where two toddlers survive a car-crash and are taken care of by the spirit of a mother who had lost her children many decades ago. Muschietti went on to direct the highly successful reboot of Stephen King’s It. Stories like these carry a universal emotion that finds it traces in legends in various cultures of the world. The legend of La Llorona originates from 16th century Mexico where the sound of the ‘weeping lady’ or the ‘wailing woman’ was thought to bring bad omens to the community. This period was a time of great distress for the Latin-American civilizations such as the Aztecs which had acquired the status of dominion from lesser cultures. Even before the Spanish conquistadors invaded South America, the people of the conquered nations lived with fear for the future of their children. The story of Mary who drowned her children only to be wracked by guilt and killing herself later, became a symbol of those times. Through the generations, her story became an innate part of Mexican folklore kept alive through songs like ‘La Llorona’ in the Nahuatl language.
Directed by Michael Chaves who is also slated to direct The Conjuring 3 (2020), the film revolves around Anna Tate-Garcia and her two children Chris and Sam, who are coping with the untimely death of their father. Anna, who works in the Child Services department, is called out on the case of one Patricia Alvarez. It had been reported that Alvarez’s children Tomas and Carlos had not been attending school. On confronting a distraught Patricia, Anna finds the children locked up in a closet and scared out of their wits. While Patricia is remanded, Anna takes the children away to a Child Services Shelter. However, that very night, the body of the two kids is found drowned in a nearby river. A few days after this harrowing incident, Anna’s children start seeing a woman in a veiled white wedding gown. Strange burn marks start appearing on their hands. When they tell Anna that those marks had happened while playing, she believes them. Until she sees the woman herself. During an interrogation, Patricia reveals to her that La Llorona would not stop until she had taken the children for herself.
With the motivations of La Llorona set from the very first act, you don’t have a sense of mystery around her. And that is okay. Sometimes it is good to have an old-school horror production that doesn’t entangle you in a psychological quagmire.
With the motivations of La Llorona set from the very first act, you don’t have a sense of mystery around her. And that is okay. Sometimes it is good to have an old-school horror production that doesn’t entangle you in a psychological quagmire. The film has a bunch of great moments where the woman in white makes an appearance through reflections. There is something inherently sinister about veiled women in white, and that works perfectly in the atmosphere of the film. However, the first act was far better than the second act where we do see some clichéd tropes. For instance, the characters call a Mexican priest to protect them, and then go on to do exactly what he warns them against. Having said that, the priest Rafael, played by Raymond Cruz (better known as Tuco Salamanca from Breaking Bad), brings in some genuinely funny lines and a colourful personality that makes up for any lapses in story-telling. Linda Cardellini gives a compelling performance of a single mother who mourns the loss of her husband. However, a did find it slightly unconvincing when she so easily believes her children’s stories. Even if your children have injured themselves during play, you would still apply some kind of medication to their cuts right ? But somehow that doesn’t happen here. That’s more a lapse in writing than acting.
The film also saw a bit of controversy surrounding the choice of Irene Keng as La Llorona instead of a Mexican actor who would have been closer to the actual ethnicity of the character and the legend. Considering the fact that we barely ever see her true face, I feel this to be an over-reaction. The writers do acknowledge the Mexican origins of the story through the characters of Patricia Alvarez played by Patricia Velásquez who first mentions La Llorona. And also through Rafael who is first shown performing a cleansing ritual called La Limpia after the deaths of Tomas and Carlos. With this film, we have yet another story that has been added to James Wan’s Conjuring universe through a few scenes through which we see references to it. One Father Perez mentions a haunted doll and we catch a glimpse of Anabelle. The other reference is far more subtle. In the Garcia household, during the climax scene, we see everyone huddled in the living room. We also see a sitting chair in the left hand side corner that is almost exactly similar to the chair in the Enfield household in The Conjuring 2 which becomes the central item of haunting in the story.
The Curse of La Llorona is a decent, no nonsense horror experience with very little frills. It has everything that a simple horror experience would entail – jump-scares, an intimidating ghost shown satisfactorily enough, and an emotional back-story to get you invested. Why mend it when it ain’t broken ?
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