Horror films have always been an indirect way for many filmmakers to tap into the collective consciousness of what people fear but are afraid to articulate in public. By the use of monsters and spirits, filmmakers used the genre of horror to try and unravel societal ills and explore the deeper emotions found in shared fears. Clever filmmakers have used horror to explore such themes as the loss of identity within the industrial age (zombies), how society has made the marginalized members of society invisible (‘Us’), and the dangers of isolation and the need to stick together (‘30 Days of Night’).
In ‘The Curse of La Llorona,’ they have found themselves with an interesting premise where they could really delve deeper into domestic abuse of children. La Llorona is presented as a Mexican legend of a woman who murdered her children to spite her cheating husband, and who killed herself when she realised what she had done. She now roams the world to take away children with the hopes of trading her children back with the ones she takes.
The film, set in 1974, follows Anna (Linda Cardellini), a child welfare officer. She is a single mother of two after she loses her husband, who is a cop. Struggling with her duties as a mother and her career, she finds herself getting entangled with La Llorona when her latest case brings her to a mother who is suspected with abusing her children.
But of course, the mother has gone crazy trying to protect her children from La Llorona but Anna does not realise this until La Llorona comes after her children. As the hauntings escalate in her household, even Anna is suspected of being an abusive mother.
But this is as far as ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ goes. The film is more invested in trying to scare you than it is in telling a deeper story, which might have made the feeling of helplessness even stronger with the audience. There are some really good setups in terms of lighting, sound design and mixing, and camera work that really creates tense and suspenseful moments. But there’s so much of it and not enough scenes to really get us to care for the characters.
Linda Cardellini is a charismatic actress and she’s quite marvelous. But her fine performance and that of her two children, Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, are not enough to really elevate this film to something more than a fright-fest.
Narratively, the film has this marvelous set-up for some heart-wrenching drama of a mother trying to protect her children from a supernatural force but is suspected to be the offender. Instead, the film quickly throws in religion and pagan rituals in the form of a former priest-turned witch doctor (played by Raymond Cruz) that turns ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ into something light and fluffy.
Even the climactic ending and final confrontation between the witch doctor, Anna and her children with La Llorona makes no attempt to resolve the sins of La Llorona’s past actions that have condemned her into this supernatural entity. It feels like a wasted opportunity for a really powerful story about parenting and domestic abuse.
But if you just want a film that will scare you, then ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ has a lot to offer. There are many inconsistencies about La Llorona’s abilities that will make you ask: “If she can do this, why can’t she do that?” There are errors in logic that can take you away from the film, but the setups of each of the scary sequences will push you to close your eyes and look away because it creates tension. It is a scary movie, for sure, but it doesn’t stick. For that, a horror film has to have a deeper story so that it stays with you. The horror has to mean something and ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ could have gone there but it seems perfectly content to frighten you. For that, it succeeds.