The scares overflow in The Curse of La Llarona, an intense and enjoyable horror from first-time director Michael Chaves. The next chapter in the ever-expanding Conjuring Universe, starting with 2013’s ‘The Conjuring’ and its subsequent sequels and spin-offs, most recently ‘The Nun’ terrified me to the very core. This like ‘The Nun’ it’s set in its own time and place, groovy-smog filled Los Angeles is where the film is set.
Michael Chaves’ short film ‘The Maiden’ was a terrifically crafted short horror. He is also set to direct ‘The Conjuring 3’, therefore I was naturally very excited to see the film. The Curse of La Llarona’s direction is stylised, controlled and the clear highlight of the film. Chaves brings exciting life to La Llarona, especially with his use of canted frames, silky movements and perspective shots that all feed into the searing tension of La Llarona’s terrifying presence.
La Llorona, or the weeping woman, is the name of a mother who, drowned her children in spite of her cheating husband back in 1673. La Llarona returns as a demonically-veiled entity, set to take your children as she couldn’t see hers no more. Single mum Anna (Linda Cardellini), is oblivious to the warnings and un-educated in the Mexican legend, she and her family get swept up into La Llarona’s grasp. Anna’s children are quickly marked and the weeping woman sets her mark on the kids.
There is a distinct style to the film, that veers away James Wan’s groundwork. I came out of the screening in awe of Chaves’ touch that is most evident when we first arrive at the family’s house, a seamless (with invisible cuts) tracking shot detailing their daily routine, all synced to a funky 70’s track. Chaves’ utilised similar techniques from his short horror, ‘The Maiden’, with the invisible ‘repulsion’ of a child via the power of an entity (in this case, La Llarona).
Although I am most impressed by the film’s direction, the same cannot be said for Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis’ writing. The film suffers from poor scripting, falling into cliche upon cliche, the dialogue could be written by a cat… Bad writing can be seen in the obliviously stupid choices of some of the characters, which is just inexcusably silly at times. In terms of its horror tropes, the scares are mainly jump scares. However, the film doesn’t fall into the pit falls of many recent horrors (i.e. Insidious: The Last Key) of jump scares for the sake of jump scares. All of its jump scares are with purpose and are truly terrifying.
The most impressive part was most definitely the prolonged scenes of horror, building atmosphere through privileging us with information the characters are unaware of. The ‘rinsing’ scene is an example of a perfectly crafted moment of horror, the hands of the devilish La Llarona parallel to Anna’s rinsing ritual with her daughter and our association with drowning only heightens the tension. Contrasting to the slow-creaking-filled set pieces, is the unconventional editing seen in a sequence of slow fades, forming a new sense of dread that is rather revolutionary in terms of technique.
The Curse of La Llarona is an impressive new chapter to The Conjuring Universe, although not flawless. The true standout of the film is Michael Chaves and his visual beauty in capturing horror. It is filled with worthy scares and La Llarona absolutely terrifies.
THE CURSE OF LA LLARONA IS OUT NOW IN CINEMAS IN US AND SET FOR RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS ON MAY 3RD
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