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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

May 5, 2019


JAMES WAN is one of today’s most successful young filmmakers. He built his reputation as a horror director with franchise films like “Saw”, “Insidious” and “The Conjuring”, then did the super hit “Aquaman”. “The Conjuring” has spawned sequels that have a connection with the original movie, like the doll Annabelle (two movies and another one coming soon) and the Nun.

Most of them are actually not directed by Wan anymore, but they still connect his name to it like it’s a guaranteed brand name. The latest horror entry to do so is “The Curse of La Llorona”, the directorial debut of Michael Chaves. The link here is the priest in “Annabelle”, Father Perez, played by Tony Amendola.

The movie starts with a prologue that aims to establish the myth of La Llorona (the Crying Woman, played by Marisol Ramirez). In 1673, a mother in Mexico drowns her two children in a river as an act of vengeance to spite her philandering husband. Overcome by intense grief, she then kills herself. As a result, her spirit is condemned to haunt eternity looking for children to replace her own. And since then, her ghost has been preying on other children.

Then we are transported to the main story set in Los Angeles in 1973. Why 1973, well, simply because that era is simple and works better for unimaginative horror writers since there are no cellphones or social media and the characters can make more of the usual idiotic mistakes that people in horror movies typically do.

Social welfare officer Anna Garcia (Linda Cardellini, “Green Book”) is the widow of a cop who was killed in the line of duty. She works very hard for child protection services while she leaves her own two kids watching TV. We see the kids watching “Scooby Doo”, where Cardellini once played the role of Velma in the live action version.

She is called to investigate the case of Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez), a recovering alcoholic and also a troubled mother. Her house is full of lighted candles and crucifixes to scare something away. She also imprisons her two children inside a closet for fear that the evil La Llorona is stalking them and will eventually get them.

Anna, of course, doesn’t believe her, gets the children from her and puts them under child care, but they soon mysteriously turn up dead, also drowned in a river. Patricia, as may be expected, is furious and blames Anna for the death of her kids. She then passes the La Llorona curse to Anna’s kids, Chris (Roman Christou) and Sam (Jaynee Kinchen), thinking that she might get her own children back in return.

Of course, Anna is skeptical at the beginning, but her doubts are dispelled when she experiences an actual encounter with the evil spirit, face to face. She then seeks the help of an old priest, Father Perez), who explains to her what’s happening, then sends her to an ex-priest turned shaman, Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), who seems to have seen other horror films with heroic priests in it, so he knows what to do.

What follows is a by-the-numbers series of attempts to scare the audience, but they’re all so derivative that even the jump scares are not really effective as the ghost tries to scare her prey and the audience, too. When the movie goes “Boo!” to terrify us, what we do is yawn instead. Been there, done that.

Despite the best efforts of the cast, this is old hackneyed stuff. Even the looks of the ghost with its shrunken face, eyes weeping blood, hands that look like claws, we’ve already seen that in various haunted horror flicks in recent years. There’s the usual thunder, strong winds and rain, culminating in the typical final ghost vs. family confrontation that doesn’t really succeed to frighten us effectively. Only the very easily scared will be pleased.

Actually, the way the movie is resolved is kinda anticlimactic and you’d ask: is that all there is to it? But despite this, there is a hint of a sequel. And from the looks of it, there just might be a part 2 for La Llorona. Its budget is only $9 million but, as of this writing, it has already earned about $50 million. As they say, tubong lugaw.