The Curse of La Llorona review: A huge missed opportunity

As the latest addition to the Conjuring Universe, The Curse of La Llorona was a huge missed opportunity for the franchise for several reasons.

In an era where it feels like all of the major studios are looking to create connected universes, the Conjuring universe is one that I was actually excited for. The Warrens, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, were the perfect jumping off place for a universe of horror stories.  We’re introduced to their collection of horrors early on and, without even realizing what was coming, we’re instantly curious about the other items within their house.

Fast forward and we’ve now seen six films from this shared universe. Both of the Conjuring movies have been well received, both critically and by the public. The first Annabelle movie wasn’t well received, but the second one, Annabelle: Creation, received decent reviews. The Nun was not a hit, and now we have The Curse of La Llorona. Which way will it fall?

Ask anyone with connections to Mexican heritage about La Llorona and you are likely to get a strong reaction. She is a well-known and strongly feared spirit within Mexican culture. When you add in the fact that Hispanic moviegoers are much more likely to consume paranormal content (31% of paranormal moviegoers and only 18% of the U.S. population) than any other group, a movie about La Llorona was a huge money-making, and loyalty securing, opportunity.

Unfortunately, The Curse of La Llorona did not capitalize on this opportunity as well as they could have.

Formulaic scares

This is a trap that is easy to fall into and I almost don’t want to blame the director, Michael Chaves, here. I don’t know the inner-workings of the Conjuring universe but their stories are starting to feel annoying similar.

From the reactions the characters have to certain happenings, to ending up at the church, to the final showdown with the spirit. It feels like they’re not really trying to differentiate their stories much.

While I will admit there are some frightening moments that will get you, these are still delivered in an annoyingly predictable fashion. Jump scares or, as I am going to start calling them, “pop goes the weasel” scares. You know it’s coming, it’s just a matter of predicting the exact moment when. The part that loses you is the setup into those scares.

When you hear noises in the night do you attempt to walk through your dark hallways to figure out what the noise is or do you turn the light on? When you think you saw a ghostly figure, then something weird happens do you wait to see what the ghostly figure is going to do or do you vacate the area?

One of my many horror movie pet peeves is when characters don’t react the way normal people would to a situation and there is plenty of that in The Curse of La Llorona. The combination of these factors causes a lot of eye rolling during the buildup, even if the scares are still effective on the back-end.

The Curse of La Llorona movie photo via WB Press

Casting

I hate to go here but I will. It would have been great to see a Hispanic family at the forefront of a movie that covers one of their greatest legends. We are now six films into the Conjuring universe and not a single film has had a minority lead. This one is the closest we have gotten but it was the perfect opportunity to change that trend. Now, with that said, if I was trying really hard I could say that I see what they were trying to do by not using a completely Hispanic cast.

The main character is played by Linda Cardellini. She is the widow of a Hispanic cop and they have two children. What may have been attempted here was adding Cardellini as the main character to create a situation where she was not familiar with the legend. Her kids perhaps didn’t get to enjoy that side of their heritage and also were not familiar with La Llorona.

Had they been in touch with their roots, or had Cardellini’s character been in touch with her husband’s, we’d have a completely different movie. As I’ve already said, this would not have been a bad thing. In fact, it would have been amazing to see this story told from the perspective of someone who grew up fearing La Llorona. However, if you are the people behind the Conjuring universe and you need this one to fall within your formula, you had to create that distance.

The Curse of La Llorona movie photo via WB Press

The Curse of La Llorona movie photo via WB Press

This description is a best case scenario but there was still a better way to create that distance. It would have been fine to have a Hispanic family that was not in touch with their roots and that perhaps could have been addressed in the film. It could have been a film with a message about heritage and getting away from yours but that would have been too novel a concept.

There was still a solid job done of integrating the main tenants of the culture and the curse so I do want to give them some credit. The use of a curandero (a traditional native healer) instead of the priest was a great touch. The curse at least beginning with a Mexican-American family was another good touch (depending on how you felt about how that played out.) The methods the curandero used to deal with the spirit were also culturally accurate which was a relief to see. They were so close.

The Curse of La Llorona movie photo via WB Press

The Legend

I think that the movie did a good job of introducing new audiences to a spirit they have likely never heard of before. The story was told in an accurate way and the pursuit of La Llorona fit within the way that the legend has been told as well. However, La Llorona is the weeping woman. It’s in her name. They did not do enough with that.

There were a few moments where you could hear her weeping but not enough. The sound should have been one that could be iconic. It should have been Pennywise’s red balloon. It should have been The Candy man chant. Something that you walk out of the theater and say to mess with your friends. I could go on but again, missed opportunity.

Next: How does La Llorona tie into the Conjuring?

Overall

If you like scary movies for the sake of scary movies then you’ll enjoy La Llorona. Don’t expect anything new or special besides learning the history of the legend itself and you’ll get what you’re looking for.

However, if you were hoping that the filmmakers decided to take a chance and try to make this film stand out from the rest you will be as disappointed as I was walking out of the theater. As it stands, their movies have at least been a success as the box office so the universe is likely not in jeopardy.

The Curse of La Llorona is currently available in theaters.