As the cinema world basks in the afterglow of Avengers: Endgame, it would be wrong not to acknowledge the surprisingly excellent shared universe that has been percolating over in the horror world for the last few years. With James Wan in the role of a blood-soaked Kevin Feige, his 2013 film The Conjuring has spawned a selection of spin-offs and sequels that have achieved pretty uniform success at the box office, even if the critical response has been variable.
The Curse of La Llorona slots into this universe, but it’s a more slender connection than that of the Annabelle movies or last year’s disastrous The Nun. It’s a largely standalone take on the titular Mexican folk tale, which translates as ‘The Weeping Woman’. La Llorona drowned her children in a fit of rage at her cheating husband and now seeks to replace them with children stolen from the world of the living.
Her crosshairs fall upon the family of Anna Garcia (Linda Cardellini), when she becomes involved in a previous pair of child murders as part of her job working for child protective services. Soon, her own kids bear the mark of La Llorona on their wrists and the malevolent spirit is on their tail. Anna desperately seeks the help of Father Perez (Tony Amendola, reprising his role from Annabelle), who turns her towards a strange, shamanic former priest (Raymond Cruz).
The early stages of The Curse of La Llorona are relatively promising, with first time director Michael Chaves crafting some solid set pieces, including one that uses wind-down car windows for great, tension-building effect. There’s even a clear nod to Sam Raimi’s iconic Evil Dead II in the way a spiritual force seems to pursue the family in a frenzied, point of view shot.
But the wheels begin to come off the film pretty quickly, with a soporific middle act of clunky, pseudo-religious exposition that gives way to a poorly conceived and overlong siege finale. Linda Cardellini tries her best to pull the pieces of this particular puzzle together, but she is given the most slender of characters and deserves far better than what she’s given. Indeed, the best use of her is to facilitate a subtle nod to her previous role as Velma in the live-action Scooby-Doo movies.
It’s a film that has enormous pacing problems, with a rather sparse middle section suddenly segueing into a third act of shrieking, nonsensical bedlam in which there’s barely a moment for the audience to process what is happening. In an era that has produced such terrific ‘mother versus the supernatural’ movies as The Babadook, this one feels sorely lacking and there isn’t a single dimension of personality on show from any of the leads. Aside from a couple of relatively solid early set pieces, there’s very little flair to be found at all.
Chaves’s next directorial gig is stepping into Wan’s shoes to helm The Conjuring 3. For the sake of that franchise, I hope it turns out better than whatever the heck this was.
Dir: Michael Chaves
Scr: Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis
Cast: Linda Cardellini, Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Patricia Velasquez, Raymond Cruz, Tony Amendola, Marisol Ramirez
Prd: James Wan, Gary Dauberman, Emile Gladstone
DOP: Michael Burgess
Music: Joseph Bishara
Run time: 93 mins
The Curse of La Llorona is in UK cinemas now.