Do you know where your children are?
As parents, we tell our kids all kinds of lies to get them to behave. Right now, you are thinking of Santa Claus. Jolly old St. Nick is mostly a harmless lie, unless you subscribe to evil versions of Santa like Krampus or Tim Allen. Be good and you will get the presents you ask for, but be bad and you get a lump of global warming. But, I think we can all agree that Santa is a fun lie that probably will not scar your children, especially since you have no idea where you can purchase a single lump of coal to shove in their stockings.
On the flip side, some parents try to scare the shit out of their kids to get them to behave. Right now, you are thinking of the Boogeyman. My parents tried this, but their hearts weren’t really in it. The boogeyman lived in the closet or under the bed and would get me if I got out of bed. I was as scared of the boogeyman as I was of the sandman because what kind of sick bastard sprinkles sand in kids’ eyes? I still got out of bed because I was five and the word boogeyman just didn’t sound all that scary. So, my parents showed me Poltergeist when I was seven and, fuck, is that a clown over there?! I may not have been afraid of the boogeyman, but after watching Poltergeist, every stuffed animal I owned was crammed in the closet for a month. You can never tell with those things.
In Mexico, the boogeyman is known as La Llorona. According to my friend, he was warned as a child not to stay out after dark or La Llorona would come and get you (side note: my friend grew up in New Mexico and was very surprised that I spent six years there during college and had never heard of La Llorona). But, there is more. She doesn’t just get you, she takes you and drowns you in the nearest river. Wow, that is hardcore. If my parents had told me about La Llorona, I wouldn’t have been so worried about a stuffed bear.
(SPOILER ALERT – plot points coming up, but nothing scary.)
As horror movies go, The Curse of La Llorona is better than most. While movies don’t scare me anymore the way Poltergeist did, La Llorona will scare a lot of people. The film starts by showing us the origin of La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez), all the way back in the late 1600s, including the drowning of her two kids. Flash forward to 1974, where we meet Anna (Linda Cardellini), a social worker and widowed mother of two. After getting her kids off to school, Anna is tasked with responding to situation where a mother, Patricia (Patricia Velasquez), has (again) kept her kids out of school. Anna convinces Patricia to let her inside Patricia’s apartment to talk and discovers Patricia has locked her two children in a closet adorned with the evil eye. Dun-dun-dun.
Long story short, La Llorona kills Patricia’s children, then sets her sights on Anna’s kids. The film plays out much like Poltergeist. La Llorona is haunting the house and toying with the family at first. She appears fleetingly, then marks the two kids by burning fingerprints into their arms when she grabs them. There is no reason she is waiting to snag them other than the movie’s runtime demands it. Like all horror movies, it has to build up to the big climactic showdown with the family in the house, so murdering the kids on the first go is out of the question. Plus, Anna has to do some discovery to come to believe La Llorona is real and how she might be able to protect her kids. This is where the best character in the film, Rafael (Raymond Cruz), comes in.
When Anna goes to Father Perez (Tony Amendola) for help, he tells her about Rafael. Rafael is a former priest who is “unorthodox” and not condoned by the church. The moment Rafael starts talking, this film ups its game by an order of magnitude. After Anna convinces Rafael to help her, Rafael goes to her house and sets about determining what exactly is terrorizing the family. This scene involves a great bit with some eggs and an even greater punchline from Rafael. This scene sold the movie for me, particularly by making it clear that the movie was not taking itself too seriously, but in a way that didn’t cheapen the film. Incidentally, this punchline is used again to marvelous affect later in the film and the audience loved it, myself included.
By this point, I had two questions I wanted answered to truly be happy with this film. The first was why it seemed to be randomly set in 1974. This film could have taken place in any year and it would not have changed it in any appreciable way. Then the Annabelle doll showed up in a flashback, loudly proclaiming La Llorona to be a Conjuring universe movie. Yes, there is a Conjuring Universe and, no, Hollywood is never going to stop.
The second question was why is Anna’s family the target of La Llorona? Ghosts always haunt for a reason, be it an ancient burial ground, someone watched a video tape, or because he just wanted to shape a clay pot with his wife one more time. I was concerned that La Llorona had picked Anna because her kid was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is every lazy horror film’s default go-to. In this case, Patricia blames Anna for Patricia’s children’s deaths and informs Anna that “when my children died, I did not pray to God. I prayed to La Llorona to take your kids and bring back mine.” Bra. Vo. Did I say this movie stepped up its game? This movie stepped up its game.
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned any scary parts, but there are plenty of them throughout the film. This being a scary movie, the scares are the one part I won’t spoil for you (nor will I ruin the ending), but there are plenty of jump scares and slow burns to keep you from relaxing. I also enjoyed how the film doesn’t try to hide La Llorona from the audience until the end, like many other movies do. She is front and center almost from the beginning and it is still startling at some points when she appears. There are also a couple of chintzy scenes during the climax (leave the doll!), but nothing so egregious as to ruin the film, not to mention Rafael more than makes up for them. I have never felt the need to try to scare my kid into behaving, but now I know what movie I would show him if I did.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back unless you brought your kids. In which case, wow – you are hardcore.