This latest attempt at a spook-fest from the team behind Warner Bros.' Conjuring-Annabelle franchise is meaningless drivel.
All the elements of a horror film are there: the paranormal inserting itself into nature and creating chaos, social and community isolation, unexplained apparitions, loss of control, psychological and physical vulnerability, evil vs good. But the story lacks credibility even though based on an old Mexican legend meant to scare kids into good behavior. There is some relief but no real redemption, just a limp ending with the threat of a sequel. These people need to find another true story (like the one The Conjuring was based on) and for goodness’ sake, hire a Catholic theological consultant! Real theology makes a compelling story. Remember The Exorcist?
Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez) is the single mother of two young sons but for reasons that are never clear, she is under the gaze of Child Protective Services (CPS) in Los Angeles in the early 70s. Her case worker is Anna Garcia (Linda Cardinelli), herself the mother of a young son, Chris (Roman Christou) and daughter, Samantha (Jayne-Lynne Kinchen.) Her deceased husband was an LAPD police officer. A call comes in one day because the Alvarez children are truant. Garcia heads to the home accompanied by a police officer but makes him stay outside when she enters the home. Alvarez’ behavior is abnormal, and the boys are missing. Garcia searches the house and finds the children locked in a closet, frightened and bearing burn marks on their arms. Alvarez screams that she locked up the children to protect them and curses Garcia for opening the door.
CPS place the boys in a Catholic children’s home, but they go missing during the night. They are found drowned nearby and the cops call Garcia. She puts her sleeping daughter in the back seat and tells her son not to get out of the car, which, in horror speak means that the young, vulnerable boy will of course get out of the car.
While Garcia gathers with law enforcement and medics at the side of the river, Chris gets out of the car to see what is happening and hears a strange wailing sound and sees a vision of a woman with a white lace veil covering her face. She grabs his arm leaving burn marks and he runs to the car, screaming.
Patricia Alvarez is arrested for her sons’ murder even though she was at home.
When Anna Garcia takes her children to the ER because of what this mysterious phantom does to her children, burning their arms and later trying to drown Samantha, she is reported to CPS. Anna knows a priest, Fr. Perez (Tony Amendola), and goes to him for help. Fr. Perez realizes that she is implicitly asking him to exorcise some kind of supernatural dark spirit but since it will take too long to go through the archdiocesan process, he suggests she contact a former priest, Rafael Orvera (Raymond Cruz). Fr. Perez explains that Rafael left the church because of its slow reaction time and now handles spiritual crises like this using science and religion rather than religion alone. Perez recuses himself saying he cannot be part of what Rafael will do.
Rafael Overa is reluctant to get involved but eventually does and tells Anna that this ghostly figure of a woman has attached herself to her family so running away will accomplish nothing. She is La Llarona or the Weeping Woman (Marisol Ramirez), the subject of a Mexican legend. She was once a poor young woman named Maria. She lived in a rural village and married a handsome rich landowner and they had two sons. When she discovered him having an affair with another woman, she drowned their two sons in the river in a fit of rage. Tortured by her deeds, she is found dead a few days later. But she has cursed herself and now roams the world seeking to kidnap and drown children she thinks are her own.
© 2019, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The Curse of La Llarona is directed by Michael Chaves in his first feature length film. It is written by Tobias Iaconis and Mikki Daughtry. Two of the key producers of the film are James Wan and Gary Dauberman. Both are part of the highly successful Conjuring-Annabelle universe and Dauberman wrote the 2017 horror hit It. Wan produced last year’s hit The Nun that Dauberman also scripted.
The problems with The Curse of the La Llarona are myriad. The story barely makes sense because any underlying theological beliefs that could counter a dark spirit such as La Llarona are undermined by superstition. Rafael Overa hasn’t left religion to embrace science and religion. No, he mixes actual Catholicism (he prays to the Trinity, for example and wields a cross, he says) and superstition. Depending on faith in God and in superstition that has nothing to do with God logically cancels out any resolution of this creepy conflict. There is nothing scientific about this film. While most people would not see a horror-thriller film for its catechetical elements or science for that matter, you can’t just make stuff up and hope people will accept your premise.
I think the filmmakers lost an opportunity to do more than scare audiences (and the film does have its moments) by not developing the back story of Rafael Overa and deepening his personality. When I mentioned this in an interview with Raymond Cruz who plays the priest, he deflected and said the film isn't about the priests but about three mothers and their children all abandoned in some way by their husbands and fathers. His character shows that he might have a sense of humor, however sardonic, but his attempts fall flat. He seems to be performing an exorcism when he goes to Garcia’s home but it’s a strange ritual that despite turning an entire swimming pool into a lifetime supply of holy water, has lost its connection to the church and sacraments and reverted to the actions of a shaman.
© 2019, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Anna, who does not practice Catholicism as her husband did, holds on to his St. Michael the Archangel medal and chain, and Patricia Alvarez holds and even prays a rosary in a tense moment, but with each horror film that is somehow attached to the original The Conjuring (2013), the narrative influence of Catholic faith on the story and characters fades further away into nonsense.
Raymond Cruz told me he hopes audiences will take away “… a deeper understanding that without your faith you are subject to be victimized by negative spirits.” Linda Cardinelli, who plays Anna Garcia and went to Catholic schools from kindergarten through college, told me, “I was very aware that some of the scariest movies were ones that talked about faith. I watched The Exorcist in college and realized that anything that is about the supernatural calls faith into question and that faith is in the response.” Cardinelli hopes that “people will have fun watching it, sitting in the dark, being scared, laughing and yelling at the screen, and the enjoyment you get when you know it’s just a movie.”
The Curse of La Llarona operates in a Catholic ethos but without authentic Catholic theology or complexity to shore up why people do what they do. The movie’s lack of inner logic just gives horror films a bad name. Plus, they left out any mention of the devil for a dark female spirit that is devil-like (she cursed and condemned herself) and the only “ritual” to deal with a superstitious legend is more superstitious gobbledygook.
The James Wan and Gary Dauberman team can do better, and they should by hiring Catholic theological story consultants. Like most of Hollywood, they don’t know what they don't know and just watching previous horror movies is not research.
Used with permission from St. Anthony Messenger (www.StAnthonyMessenger.org).