The Curse of La Llorona is a part of the Conjuring Universe, albeit in a tenuous way. In it, social worker Anna (Cardellini) becomes convinced that her children are being stalked by the vengeful spirit of a woman who murdered her children and seeks advice from Father Perez, a priest Annabelle fans should recognise.
Much like Anna being a widow, his inclusion makes no impact story-wise (he turns her away as his run-in with the doll put him off demon-vanquishing), but it’s significant in another way; it creates expectation. Sadly, La Llorona has more in common with the woefully-received film that Perez made his debut in than it does the franchise’s other emotional, innovative outings.
So often, it ruins what it sets up. One moment sees Anna’s daughter walk out into the backyard, blissfully unaware that something is after her and her brother. As it starts to drizzle, she puts up her transparent umbrella and through it, sees a ghostly figure standing in the distance. It’s a great visual – reminiscent of James Wan’s work in The Conjuring – but when the heavily make-upped antagonist shows her face again in one of many jump-scares, the tension is zapped.
It crams in so many clichés, it’s as if it’s making its way through a scoresheet. Doors banging themselves shut? Check. Strange marks appearing on the kids overnight? Check. The ‘evil has latched itself onto you, not your home’ speech? Check. (That said, it’s a welcome change to see a horror protagonist purposely stay up until sunrise because they’re so darn spooked).
The 1970s setting – all flared jeans, feathered hair and vintage cars – is interesting, and there’s something quaint about a scary movie that doesn’t allow its characters to Google what terrible things might be happening to them. The consistently-good Cardellini does her best with a threadbare script too, particularly in the first act where Anna grapples with the unexpectedly tragic consequences of a choice she makes at work.
Other characters don’t get any depth at all. Cruz’s Olvera, a former clergyman who abandoned the church when it questioned his unorthodox practices, arrives to help Anna late in the game. And with her and her children semi-scoffing at his methods, he becomes awkward comic-relief. For a film that’s inspired by a Mexican folk song, it’s disappointing that it would reduce its most prominent Latin-American character to that.
That just sums La Llorona up; sidestepping good material for something more generic and sillier. It won’t be the tears of the Weeping Woman that’ll haunt you, it’ll be your own as you remember how good the Conjuring universe can be when it doesn’t.