The Conjuring Universe doesn’t usually fuck up too badly.
The Nun and the first Annabelle movie are awful. but quite watchable, and they’re about the worst of the bunch – well, until 2019’s The Curse of La Llorona, easily one of the very worst mainstream horror movies in recent years. It’s lazy, full of the same jump scare over and over again, and feels more like a cynical cash grab than it does a movie. Luckily, my wonderful readers, I have found a film that uses the legend of La Llorona (you’re all lucky you can’t hear my every attempt to pronounce this title right, it’s the true horror), also known as the Wailer, or the Weeping Woman, and does everything right that the American version did wrong.
Simply called La Llorona, the film, directed by Jayro Bustamante, follows the continued fallout of the genocide of the native Mayan people by Guatemalan dictator Enrique Monteverde. Enrique is now an old man who is succumbing to a number of health problems while also being put on trial to answer for his misdeeds over three decades earlier; found guilty, he is then given a reprieve, causing Mayan protestors to camp outside his opulent estate by their thousands.
Not exactly a sympathetic character, but La Llorona’s masterstroke is the presence of Enrique’s wife, daughter, and granddaughter, who all have to come to terms, or in some cases completely ignore the patriarch’s crimes. One night, during the trial, Enrique is awoken by the sound of a woman crying. Finding nobody who could be responsible for the noise, he nearly shoots his wife accidentally. Then, after his sentence is withdrawn, the otherworldly Alma joins the household staff (the previous staff, who themselves are of Mayan descent, skedaddled when the heard about the woman crying in the night -perhaps they knew what was coming).
Alma is La Llorona, Monteverde makes that immediately clear, but she’s not a BOO! figure like the American version of the story. Instead, she is more of an avenging spirit, who only appears when she feels that justice has not been down. Her plan, which I won’t spoil, is very clever.
La Llorona is not a very scary movie – it’s more interested in getting under your skin than scaring you out of it. It’s attention to tone, it’s haunting imagery, and the camera quirk of beginning with an establishing shot and slowly panning out, revealing, as this move as it is used throughout the movie, the larger story, the larger crime.
By Kevin Boyle
Header Image: RogerEbert.com