“She will come for them” - Patricia
Here’s a release that when I noticed the poster on display in the multiplex, intrigued me. Wow, what a image. What a tag line. Okay, forget for the moment that it’s by the same production team that brought us The Conjuring series – a lamentable franchise if ever there was one. This might be the film to wash away those bitter disappointments and wipe the slate clean. After all, the online word was that The Curse of La Llorona (pronounced La Yorona) was a totally separate film from the established Conjuring/Annabelle continuity.
Seeing there was an advance screening on the cards and knowing that I’d never see it when Avengers: Endgame was showing – I did the gentlemanly thing and headed out. After all, I’d never have discovered A Nightmare on Elm Street I a London cinema back in ’85 on its opening weekend had I not been willing to try something new.
Yeah – this ain’t no Nightmare on Elm Street, that’s for sure. It quickly became the second time in a row that I got burnt at the multiplex by watching a movie that could’ve, no – SHOULD’VE worked but sadly didn’t. (For the record, the other one was the Pet Sematary remake, which I didn’t review here, but tore to shreds in a review published in Starburst issue 460.
The sad thing about La Llorona is that it has a sound premise. It’s solid. Seemingly fool proof. Known in some countries as The Curse of the Weeping Woman, the film opens in Mexico, 1673 and concerns a strikingly beautiful woman, who marries her ideal husband, they have two wonderful children. Life is perfect, until the day she sees her husband in the arms of a younger woman. In the maddened throes of betrayal, she takes from him the thing he valued the most, and drowns both their children. Her tortured spirit now exists as a vengeful ghost who preys on children who hear her weeping.
Okay, that’s pretty strong for a backstory. Surely they can work with this and make a strong, atmospheric, eerie film – right?
Well, no. That simple mission is beyond the unsophisticated hacks who churn these movies out. And the writing’s on the wall from the moment we fast forward to 1973, and the home of a widowed child support services worker played by Linda Cardellini where she lives with her two young children. Yes, they have a swimming pool – so it’s blatantly obvious that the pool is going to play a huge part in the so-called plot of the film, and we know, beyond any doubt that it will be used to try and drown one or other, or both kids sooner or later – my prediction was at the two thirds point of the film, and I wasn’t far wrong. You also know that there will be a bathtime scene with an attempted drowning as soon as it’s established that she likes to rinse her hair by sliding down and submerging her whole head. It’s laughably obvious.
And that’s the problem with the whole film – it’s all so obvious. La Llorona herself is a demonic creature, dressed in a long white dress with a veil, and she keeps popping up just exactly where you expect her to. There are literally no surprises or plot twists here. It’s all so by the numbers that it falls into the unforgivable trap of failing to lull the audience into a false sense of security and then shaking them to their core - but instead boring them to near catatonia and using a jump scare to try and wake them up. And that is the most irritating thing of all, and the hallmark of the whole Conjuring/Annabelle franchise (of which this IS a part, incidentally – the priest from Annabelle is there in a small role). They are SO devoid of any atmosphere and sense of dread of menace that they become entirely reliant on jump scares. A sudden slam close-up of La Llorona, accompanied by a loud blast of music. Repeated ad infinitum.
Jump scares, when used sparingly can be very effective. Take as an example the sudden appearance of the head rolling into sight in Jaws. That gets me every single damn time. And I know it’s coming. (I should – I first saw the film in 1976). Young Jason Voorhees jumping out of the water in the final scene of Friday the 13th. I’m still braced for that to happen. Every time. The list goes on – the sudden appearance of Christopher Lee, dribbling blood, his eyes bright red in Dracula (1958) isn’t easily forgotten. But what those masterfully used shocks had that these Conjuring films don’t seem to grasp is to use that tactic sparingly. If it’s the only tool in your creative box – then you’re clearly in the wrong business.
Character development is another area that’s very weak – to the point of non-existence in this film. We really don’t know enough about the family to care about them. They’re just props to get from one jump scare to the next. We, the audience, just don’t engage with much less identify with them.
For whatever reason, Warners are releasing this in the UK on the same weekend as Avengers: Endgame. Surely they know that they’re sacrificing this movie as a write-off, because let’s face it, it’s not going to make a dent in Marvel Films’ product, is it? And given that – if they really care so little, then why waste money making tis trash in the first place? It honestly beggars belief that James Wan could direct last year’s magnificent Aquaman and then go on to produce….this. Sometimes, all you can do is sigh in despair.
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