Review by Joshua Rothkopf
If you’re looking for the scariest horror movies of recent years, they’ve been lurking in the shadows: ‘Hereditary’, ‘The Babadook’, ‘The Witch’, ‘The Eyes of My Mother’ and the arrestingly weird ‘Suspiria’ are all the products of indie visionaries spinning their relatively small budgets into gold. But 2013’s majestically creepy ‘The Conjuring’, a lavish studio movie assembled with floorboard-creaking precision by director James Wan, was an exception – a reminder that, when it wanted to, Big Hollywood could do the genre proud.
So it’s been a shame to watch the Conjuring-verse (why must everything be a verse?) get diluted by unworthy follow-ups like the ‘Annabelle’ and ‘Nun’ spinoffs. This latest one, ‘The Curse of La Llorona’, may further the brand a bit, but it’s the opposite of frightening: a sludgy collection of tired jump scares, inexpertly mounted period décor – this time we’re in a too-shiny 1973 Los Angeles – and a continued slump into generic blahness. The presence of Annabelle’s chatty Father Perez (Tony Amendola) connects the dots, yet even with a tragic monster straight out of Mexican folklore and a largely Latinx cast (often speaking in untranslated Spanish), ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ feels depressingly familiar and flat.
Widowed social worker Anna Garcia (Linda Cardellini, boringly dutiful) rescues two children locked in a closet by a mentally snapped mom – or so she thinks, until the kids turn up dead in a riverbed, and the culprit, according to their grief-stricken parent, is La Llorona, the supernatural ‘weeping woman’ who drowned her own boys in a 17th-century fit of pique and now steals those of the living. (Anna’s children are next.) One scene involving a ghostly scalp massage in a bathtub plays like the lame ‘Scary Movie’ parody we used to have to wait a few months for; every time the script (by ‘Five Feet Apart’s shameless Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis) suggests a more psychologically complex turn to come, we’re jerked back to its straight line. Once we meet ‘Breaking Bad’s Raymond Cruz as a solemn house-cleaning shaman with ‘unorthodox methods’ (let’s please retire this phrase), you’ll know the movie is cursed to evoke ‘Poltergeist’ with little payback of its own.