by Philip Price
Director: Michael Chaves
Starring: Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz & Patricia Velasquez
Runtime: 1 hour & 33 minutes
A horror film based on Mexican folklore about a "weeping woman" who drowned her own children in a river and is then doomed to an eternity of seeking out the children of others is, well ... a pretty great set-up in story and tone as well as hinting at the natural aesthetic a movie should take.
So, how hasn't this been converted into a product for profit already?
Unfortunately for Hispanic culture, director Michael Chaves, in his feature directorial debut, seems to have been told to approach this from a very specific standpoint by a studio invested in a very specific vision of a cinematic universe rather than from a financier who might have allowed the filmmaker to integrate the natural inclinations the folklore would lend to a visual representation. That said, and this is somewhat ironic, the movie’s biggest strength is in fact its visual prowess as the narrative resorts largely to jump scares and extended sequences of as much rather than nurturing an actual story or developing actual characters.
Though I haven't seen any of the shorts Chaves has directed, ‘La Llorona’ feels very much in line with the visual stylings of James Wan, the originator and cultivator of this series of horror films from the same universe. In approaching such promising material from this mindset, the result is almost inevitably middle-of-the-road as it hits all of the required beats without ever making the audience dance (or squirm) to its rhythm.
Furthermore, while Chaves and his team go to great lengths to nail down an atmosphere and period-specific details (like ‘The Conjuring’ films, this also takes place in the ‘70s) much of it is in service of few to no genuine scares. There is even a general lack of creepiness as all that occurs and all that is being threatened to happen to these characters we mostly care about only because they are either children or widowed women are more broad examples of horror movie tropes than they are specific consequences of having encountered as unique a figure as the "weeping woman".