“The Conjuring” franchise is notable for two key reasons.
It began with an instant classic, directed by Mr. Aquaman himself, James Wan. More importantly, every subsequent tale has had a machine-like efficiency. That’s a blessing and a curse for horror junkies.
“The Curse of La Llorona” is no exception. The film is a very loose extension of the franchise, but it has all the trademark “Conjuring” tics.
- Solid acting
- Strong FX
- Respect for faith-based audiences
- Patented scares (you almost always see coming)
“La Llorona” spins on a classic Mexican ghost story but can’t take advantage of its real-world roots.
“Bloodline” standout Linda Cardellini stars as Anna, a widowed mom of two precious tykes. Her work at Child Protective Services connects her to a fellow single mother who may be mentally unhinged. Or does the woman simply see a ghost desperate to separate mothers from their children?
The investigation quickly gets personal for Anna, and only the talents of a rebellious ex-priest (Raymond Cruz of “Breaking Bad” fame) may save her kids.
“La Llorona” may take its cues from Latino culture, but there’s little in the way of subtext to make the story pop. The same holds true for Anna’s family. They’re a cookie-cutter clan, sweet, kind and oh so ordinary.
Ordinary doesn’t have to be bland. A strong script can find the humanity in any family, even the Cleavers. It’s just that everything about “The Curse of La Llorona” is workmanlike … and nothing more.
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#LaLlorona has haunted people for generations… What’s your story?
Cardellini is always compelling on screen, but her character remains a blank slate. Only Cruz’s appearance shakes things up. His Sahara dry humor and idiosyncratic ways goose the film for a spell. His presence ups the film’s comic relief quotient, remind us how crucial laughter is to this genre.
Then, we’re back to slick but obvious scare tactics in the service of a story we’ll soon forget.
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Anna’s inability to grasp elements of Latino culture suggest a deeper theme in play, but the story does nothing within that context. We also know little about her late husband beyond his Hispanic surname.
The titular ghoul is a creepy CGI wonder. Her appearances come on cue all too often. And, once again, familiar horror tropes flood the screen, from an uneasy bathtub sequence to the sight of people being dragged away by unseen hands.
It’s why Jordan Peele’s flawed but fascinating “Us” continues to stand out. Peele’s singular vision is unlike any other filmmaker. Maybe he should take over the “Conjuring” universe. It’s time for an auteur to bring the series back to its glorious roots.
HiT or Miss: “The Curse of La Llorona” is tightly packaged horror that checks all the genre boxes without passion or flair.