The Conjuring universe doesn’t follow the rules of a traditional cinematic universe, from the James Bond series to the comic-book worlds of Marvel and DC. Movies are loosely connected, and really only share the common goal to scare an audience. And as is usually the case in a shared universe, some movies end up being more successful than others at just about all of the things that it sets out to do.
Because it doesn’t have to tie directly into the existing Conjuring timeline centered around Ed and Lorraine Warren, Michael Chaves’ The Curse of La Llorona is free to establish its own narrative in an earlier era – the 1970s – that has an offhanded reference to the Annabelle doll who herself inspired two Conjuring movies. Yet, while La Llorona has a stimulating premise and a creepy spirit who is realized with impressive practical effects, the overall execution is tepid and uninspired, putting this chapter below the level of chills we’ve come to expect from the better Conjuring movies.
One thing The Curse of La Llorona has going for it is the presence of Linda Cardellini as Anna, a kick-ass momma bear of a social worker who toils away at helping children in need. Anna’s job puts her on the path of Patricia (Patricia Velasquez), a terrified mother who believes that La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez) is coming for her children.
You see, La Llorona is a folk legend passed down from generation to generation in the Mexican community. The “weeping woman” took the lives of her own children, as the legend goes, and now hunts random kids in the night. Parents use the threat of La Llorona as a way to scare kids into behaving. Only now, the treat is becoming all too real for the players in this dark fantasy.
Great concept. Which is something you can say about most of the stories that are born in the Conjuring world. But the bulk of The Curse of La Llorona falls victim to the type of jump scares and lazy jolts that are commonplace in run-of-the-mill haunted house stories. As much as I appreciated Michael Chaves’ decision to cast an actual actress as La Llorona, and employ her hands and body in the film’s most effective scenes, the way that the creature attacked its victims was routine and silly more often than not.
The movie is supposed to get a jolt of energy when it introduces Raymond Cruz (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) as a disgruntled parish priest who believes he knows how to stop the threat of La Llorona. Only, the screenplay wastes Cruz as a character, and his massive séance scene essentially fizzles out.
I mentioned a connection to the Conjuring universe, and the one found in The Curse of La Llorona is thin. Fans of the previous movies will recognize the familiar character the moment they are on screen, but the actions in La Llorona will neither enhance or detract from the stories being told in the mainstay Conjuring plotline.
The bigger concern for fans of that series is that La Llorona director Michael Chaves is scheduled to move from this movie to The Conjuring 3, as James Wan finds himself caught up in Aquaman sequels and producing projects. Nothing in La Llorona got me excited about seeing what Chaves will bring to the Conjuring series. Instead, I’m hoping that La Llorona shows him what doesn’t work in this franchise, so he can course correct and make due with his next step up to the horror plate.