La Llorona is the Stuff So-So Horror Films are Made Of

***Originally published on The Film Experience***

Latino audiences are the leading demo for moviegoing yet Hollywood ignores them at their own peril. Cynical though it is, somebody at Warner Bros said “no mas” and rang Jim Wan to add one more wrinkle to his ever-expanding Conjuring universe.

Serving as producer, Wan’s fingerprints are everywhere. From swooping dollies and immaculate crane work, to an early scene of kids frolicking to 70’s tunes, La Llorona often flatters the original with many homages. The simple foreboding of a dark corner in the room or a hazy reflection in the mirror. Directed by up-and-comer Michael Chaves, the film is well-made and often scary enough, utilizing familiar tricks that still do the trick. They’re all jump scares, but they’re not fleeting, sending a chill down your spine regardless. Linda Cardellini gives her best mama bear and the kids (Roman Christou, Jaynee Lynne) give it their all. Sean Patrick Thomas shows up for the first time in ages, and Raymond Cruz injects humor and gall as a former priest operating outside of the Catholic Church. Wielding bloody eggs, garden seeds, and ornate dream-catchers, he’s better than a priest. He’s a shaman.

Where Llorona falters are the other characters, thinly drawn and prone to dumb mistakes and dumber writing. You know, the stuff so-so horror films are made of. Why does the mother (Cardellini) leave her kids alone so frequently, even after evil has arrived and made itself known to her? Why are the kids so quiet and so awful at assuaging social services? Why is an old raggedy Ann doll so important to the daughter, to the point where she’ll risk everything for it? The latter is a true head-scratcher, and can’t be chalked up to mere childhood stupidity. Kids aren’t stupid, and they’re definitely not stupid about ghosts and things that go bump in the night. The connection to The Conjuring is tenuous at best, with a brief flashback the only thing placing Llorona in that universe.

Based on opening weekend numbers, Hollywood would do well to stop ignoring so many patrons. Better than The Nun, and far below the likes of The Conjuring or its sequel, The Curse of La Llorona is a flawed, fun little haunted ride by way of Mexican folklore.

Grade: C+

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