The Curse of La Llorona (***1/2) is a nice add to the Conjuring Universe

The Curse of La Llorona – 2019

Director Michael Chaves
Screenplay Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis
Starring Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velásquez, Jaynee-Lynn Kinchen, Roman Christou, Marisol Ramirez, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tony Amendola

The Curse of La Llorona is the kind of film that has merit for being solid, if not spectacular. Though there are no scenes in the film that stand out for being as memorable as the best horror, it also does not succumb to the schlock we tend to accept in the effort to get one or two jump scares. The fact that I was enjoying this film before realizing that it was part of The Conjuring set of films is a good sign. It’s as solid as most of those films. It’s even better than the last one, The Nun.

The premise, like many of the films in the series, takes the form of an old folk tale come to life. In this case, a Latin American version of The Crying Woman. The story involves a beautiful woman from a poor family who marries and has two children. The father is caught cheating and the woman kills her children (by drowning) in a rage. She is then so overcome with grief, she spends the rest of her days searching for them. She is disallowed to enter heaven and is stuck between the land of the living and dead. This brings her in contact with other children, who hear her weeping for her lost. Children who cross her path are kidnapped by her. What happens from here, you’ll have to see for yourself.

Cardellini is Anna, a widowed mother in 1973. In her occupation as social worker, she comes across one of her clients in the midst of hiding her children. Mistaking the panicked mother as being abusive, she takes the kids away to a shelter. It is not long after this she discovers to her horror, she made a mistake. This puts the lives of Anna and her family at risk.

The beats are pretty easy to guess, but fortunately the acting is solid all around. Cardellini is in top form, right down to the position of the ring on her finger we can feel the weight she’s carrying. Her strength of character makes her terror all the more effective as well.

The children, so often targets in the Conjuring films, have a pleasant mixture of fear and doubt that keeps them from telling obvious truths until disaster is well on its way. Why they’re left at home alone during the day is not really in question. A single mother doesn’t have many options in the 70’s to take care of the kids after school until she’s home from work. Even when she is home, the spaciousness of the mid-century house is such that there are many sounds to hear that make us wonder.

Rounding the cast is Raymond Cruz, who I have enjoyed ever since he was the young soldier left behind in Clear and Present Danger. He’s given a complex character here. It’s enjoyable trying to determine what things he will explain and what his motives might be.

This is a solid entry in a series of films that have raised the bar for scary films that don’t rely on being gross. The jumps are frequent enough, and the obvious points of the plot are pleasantly obscured with actors who believe they’re up for the fight of their lives.

See this if you like the series. If you don’t like the series, you don’t like possession films done right.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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