FILM REVIEW – THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA. With Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Marisol Ramirez, Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen. Written by Mikki Daughtry & Tobias Iaconis. Directed by Michael Chaves. Rated R for violence and terror. 93 minutes.
Was this really the right time for a horror movie about a Mexican demon who kills children attacking an American family? One dreads the thought of President Trump citing THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA as another reason to build his wall.
Politics aside, this horror entry is notable in light of what will be next week’s release of what will likely be one of the biggest films of the year, “Avengers: Endgame.” Much has been made of the success of the intertwined entries in the MCU – the Marvel Cinematic Universe – with the films playing off of each other so that fans feel the need to see each new release. With less fanfare there has been a similar collection of films coming off the 2013 movie “The Conjuring” which has, so far, led to one sequel and several spinoffs including “Annabelle” and “The Nun,” with more films on the way.
“The Curse of La Llorona” has a fleeting nod to “Annabelle,” in telling the story of how Anna (Linda Cardellini), a social worker, causes her family to be attacked by La Llorona, the spirit of a centuries old Mexican woman who murdered her children and then took her own life. Much of the scares are of the cheap, jump-out-at-you variety, with La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez) suddenly appearing to menace Anna’s children (Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen).
It’s a spooky story to be sure, and the young actors playing the children are so effective one hopes that making the film didn’t leave them with nightmares and years of therapy ahead of them. Since this is part of a growing franchise, it’s not enough to ask whether it is a serviceable horror film – it is – without also asking where do the filmmakers go from here? Although the door is left open, at least by implication, for further tales of La Llorona, there’s a much more promising road ahead.
In the film’s third act Anna turns to Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), a former priest who has left the church but has not lost his faith. Using unorthodox means, he has devoted himself to fighting demons and other manifestations of the world’s evils. His arrival in the story, after a brief appearance early on, kicks the film up to a new level. Cruz wryly underplays the role, generating some genuine laughs as opposed to the ones mocking the film’s contrivances. A veteran actor with credits reaching back to the 1980s, this should be a breakout role for him and one that should lead to a follow-up movie where his character will be front-and-center.
“The Curse of La Llorona” is a competently made horror film that probably wouldn’t have attracted much notice if it wasn’t billed as part of “The Conjuring” universe. If the franchise continues to grow, it may be well-remembered as the movie made Cruz and his character major players in the series.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.