Rated R for horrible and scary things happening to kids. If you want a movie with dead kids, this movie has that. Kids have had it easy for too long. Forget that. Kids die in this movie. It's kind of like The Ring, only the kids don't have a free pass and that the monster really wants to kill those kids. I'm sure there's some language and there's a lot of really questionable theology here. It pretty much deserves the R because you'll probably jump a lot.
DIRECTOR: Michael Chaves
Oh man, this movie has affected my life way more than I thought it would. It's just taken over my life. I've written about this before, but please, check out my Catholic News Agency article on this movie for something a little more coherent. Also, listen to an interview I did with star Raymond Cruz here for the Literally Anything podcast. Did I get everything out of the way? Anyway, a lot of that stuff was talking about the responsibility of theology in Hollywood, which means that I kind of have to approach this analysis from a different perspective. If I had to say something about this movie, I kind of liked it. The thing about The Conjuring movies is that, while they aren't really amazing, they are pretty solid overall. In terms of actual scares, these movies kind of deliver. When I go to scary movies, I want to be scared. The thing that The Curse of La Llorona wants me to say about it is that it is actually a pretty scary movie. And guess what? It actually deserves this. I will add some caveats to that. I saw it on IMAX with an amazing speaker system. The movie is full of jump scares and they got me a few times. It was those kinds of scares where I couldn't help but laugh immediately afterwards. So that's great...
But I do want to talk about a troubling critical read of the movie. I will be delving into SPOILERS to get the analysis out, so please bear with me. It's just that I've been holding onto this since I saw the movie and I haven't really had the venue to talk about this issue in the film. There's actually a couple of things, but I've hinted at one of them. The thing I want to talk about here is the troubling racial narrative that the movie presents. (I just realized both issues were related, so I might bleed over into the second issue.) The La Llorona folktake is something that has been passed down from Latin generation to Latin generation. With my interview with Cruz, he talked about how grandparents pass that story down time and again and that he prides himself in spreading that myth. Okay, that might not be my bag, but I kind of get it. La Llorona is something intrinsically Hispanic and culturally important and I love that. The film is taking this cultural cornerstone and giving it to the world. I love that. But in doing so, it puts some of the Hispanic and Latin elements into the background and giving the reins over to white audiences. The movie is The Curse of La Llorona. It is a Latin being who kidnaps and drowns children to replace the children she murdered when she was alive. She was a cautionary tale told to children to keep them away from the water. "Listen to your parents, or la Llorona will get you." "Don't play in there. La Llorona will get you." It's great. The problem is that it treats Hispanics as somehow lesser people. In a movie about Hispanic culture, it has white people make the problem real. Linda Cardellini is the star of this film. She has two adorable white children who really haven't done anything wrong. But it is when Patricia's kids are murdered, she puts this curse on Cardellini's Anna. Anna was her friend and tried to help her. Yeah, she was a social worker, but she was a respectful social worker. She opened the door because it honestly looked like Patricia was torturing her children. Hey, if this movie was really trying to be woke, it might say something about white people thinking that they know better, but the movie really kind of downplays that element of the narrative. Patricia's kids are killed and to get them back, Patricia puts the curse on Anna. The trade-off is that La Llorona would return Patricia's children if she gave her Anna's kids. Well, yeah, Anna should fight for her children. Patricia is also kind of doing something evil to get her kids back. But let's also look at the worst case scenario. By the logic of the whole story, we save some Hispanic children in exchange for some white kids? Why are the white kids more valuable than the Hispanic kids? That's a really weird story to tell. Anna and Rafael beat La Llorona, which means that Patricia's kids are still really dead. What kind of ending is that? It's not like when La Llorona is beaten, all those kids return to life. I can kind of get behind that ending. But saying that Anna needs to keep those Hispanic kids dead so her white kids can survive is really troubling. We get to know her kids. They seem really nice and almost completely innocent in terms of behavior. But when we see Patricia's kids, they are just cannon fodder. We should be mortified that her kids got killed. But they die in a really scary way. We end up laughing because we were so scared by that moment. Oh, thank goodness they only got those other kids. Patricia is seen as this crazy person, but she's a grieving mother. Yeah, her actions are pretty terrible, but that's almost completely justified considering what she has gone through and the fact that it is Anna's fault.
There's something that gets a little boring when a movie franchise goes a while. Okay, I know that I'm a pretty big cynic. I tend to believe nothing except for my love of God and even that is fighting with my rational brain. But so much of this movie wouldn't be a problem if people talked to each other. For sure...FOR SURE something supernatural is going on. Patricia's lack of communication doesn't place her at fault. But if she could have just gotten her act together, a lot of the movie wouldn't have happened. The same thing holds true with the kids. Chris definitely saw La Llorona. That scene is in the trailer. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can see how much he actually sees her. Heck, he's burned by her. Of course he knows that she is real. But then Anna shows up and he says "nothing happened." Okay, you have a burn mark on your arm, sir. You can be open. Samantha...same thing. For some reason, this choice for silence is really bizarre in the film. Anna is blown against a wall and doesn't talk to her kids, who clearly have seen the same thing. When you watch The Ring, there's a degree of subtlety to the haunting. She makes you questions whether or not what you are seeing is reality. La Llorona is not that. From the first haunting to the end, she is blatantly obvious, yet they all try passing her off as a part of their imagination. I have kids. The kids blame everything but themselves for when they get scared. Why is there this pact between everyone not to talk about La Llorona? I wouldn't even really mind if they think that La Llorona was alive instead of a ghostly character. At least, you could write it off as someone playing a trick on the character. But a lot of the movie are characters dancing around this character that is torturing them. The answer tot his whole thing is a little bit obvious: it is expected. The supernatural horror movie has a handful of generic conventions. I suppose that means that horror movies are formulaic. They kind of are. But supernatural horror movies have the element of tiptoeing around hauntings. Again, I'm not a ghost guy. If you met me back in middle school, I could have told you about all the many ghosts I believed in. But now, I'm actually really good with being skeptical about everything. But if I saw La Llorona, a not at all subtle creature, I would tell you about it constantly. You wouldn't be able to stop me. I'd show my you burned hand. I would be telling the heck out of that story. LITERALLY! (Bum bum bum!) I almost feel like we can't make a supernatural horror movie without everyone just assuming that the ghost is the wind. This actually leaves a lot of pressure on the shoulders of the filmmakers. If the movie calls for a healthy dose of skepticism, then we have to make La Llorona a creature of mystery. She has to be there and then not. One of my favorite bits in the movie is the umbrella sequence. It's got a little bit of "what am I looking at" element to her. I mean, that's a pretty big moment by the end and I would have been hootin' and hollerin' about demons comin' to get me. But for the umbrella part of it, I could see why Stephanie wouldn't want to mention what she saw. I wish I could say that this entire section was a message on not narcing. This goes back to my hopes that the story is about minding our own business. But by that logic, the family is punished for minding their owns. Again, we have two conflicting themes going on.
I think my big complaint about the movie that I mostly liked is the ending. The Conjuring movies know how to deliver on an ending. That final boss battle is often pretty epic. I also love the fact that I don't know who is going to win in these scenarios. The great thing about a good horror movie is the uncertainty that the villain can be defeated. Often, we get kinda-sorta defeats. We think that we've beaten the bad guy, but wait! The Curse of La Llorona actually has a pretty rad final battle. Any time that La Llorona shows up in the movie, things got real creepy real fast. I'm not quite sure on her rules, but why doesn't she just kill the kids. It's not as though Anna could really do anything. But that final sequence where she's just all over the place. She's scary. She's a powerhouse. I don't know what their plan to beat her is...and then they just stab her with a cross. Come on. So the thing that would kill anything kills her. The movie toys with the idea that the could find a specific thing that would take La Llorona down. There's Rafael and his plans, which seem to be kind of half-cocked, but explained with confidence. It kind of sounds like he never really had a plan, but the movie convinced me that he did. Then there's the mirror bit. There was something cool about the mirror bit that should have been explored. I love the idea that the monster doesn't realize that she's the bad guy. If there was something that could have been crafted out of that moment, I think that ending could have rocked. But no. They just took a holy object and stabbed it through the heart. Why? Why would you consider that the bing-bang-boom ending? La Llorona seems really complex and the stuff of cultural nightmares. It seems more important than the other side villains we've dealt with. Instead, we have the laziest conclusion to the bad guy ever. Also, the movie teases this necklace as being important to her, but that thing does not play out. It just slows her down for a second. Heck, I just realized what would have worked better. Maybe the dead children could rise up against her. Maybe, the kids could have tricked her into believing that her abusive husband had returned. Something. Something that would tie directly into the character's story. A cross through the heart is such a shortcut! It also really reinforces the lame theology of the movie. For some reason, the message of the film was that the Church isn't all that important. It's all about spirituality over religion. It's a bummer when a priest actually vocalizes that and then the hero of the film confirms that idea. This is a movie that's released during Holy Week. Then we have crosses used as knives? I don't need that in my life. The really weird thing is that none of this needed to be in the movie and it's such a safety net for the film. There's a cool way to end the movie and that wasn't it.
But the big win for The Curse of La Llorona comes from the fact that I would totally watch the movie again. Maybe I wouldn't find it as scary a second time, but the movie is actually pretty good. After Annabelle: Creation, I thought I was done with this franchise. But The Curse of La Llorona is genuinely scary. Yeah, it plays up jump scares more than other films, but those jump scares are actually pretty good. It has a heavy dose of laziness. But if I went into the film with pretty low expectations, I could leave saying I had a good time.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.