‘The Curse of La Llorona’ Is an Entertaining and Frightening Retelling of the Mexican Folktale

La Llorona, the weeping woman of Mexican folklore is one popular ghost. She has been the subject of over twenty feature films, fourteen plus shorts, and over a dozen TV episodes, including a mini-series. The latest chapter in cinema’s romance with the tragic Mexican Medea is “The Curse of La Llorona,” another addition to the “Conjuring” franchise. It is effectively crafted, and provides a lot of jump-out-of-your-seat scares.

The biggest challenge of any La Llorona film is learning how to pronounce her name. The story comes from an old Mexican Folk tale. A poor but beautiful girl marries a slimy rich guy. They have wonderful kids. She catches the slimy rich guy cheating on her with another woman. Though not quite as conniving as Euripides’ Medea, she does react by killing her children. But she feels remorse. She is doomed to haunt the byways of rural Mexico, kidnapping the children of others. It’s an archetypal image that makes her perfect fodder for various film and horror adaptations.

Which brings us to this latest one. It has the prologue, which tells the origin of the wailing woman. That done, it advances to Los Angeles circa 1973. Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) is the single mother of Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). Her husband was a policeman who died in the line of duty and she works in social services. When one of her cases, a recent Mexican immigrant Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez), goes loony and locks her young boys in a closet, her boys are sent to Catholic Charity Home for their safety.

Anna goes home to her kids and a good night’s rest. That is until she is awakened in the night with the news that both of the Alvarez boys have been found drowned in the L.A. River. Their mother is arrested and then released, cursing Anna’s name. And a raggedy ghostly woman in white (Marisol Ramirez) begins to harass Anna’s children.

La Llorona, the woman in white, attempts a snatch and grab of young Chris at the L.A. River drowning site. She attempts the same with sister Sam at the family pool. And later, Anna suffers a violent encounter with this same apparition. All three exhibit the same bloody burn marks on their arms. And yet when the others ask each one as to what happened, each of them lie. “Oh, this burn? It’s nothing. I fell.” Apparently honesty is not valued in this social worker’s family.

The first honest person in this movie is the troubled Alvarez mother. She confesses her angry prayers to La Llorona, pleading with her to Anna’s children instead and give her the boys back. And apparently La Llorona agrees.

After everyone tells the truth about their encounters with La Llorona, the family seeks the help of Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), a defrocked priest and unsanctioned exorcist. The last third of the movie is the all-out battle between La Llorona and everyone else.

Directed by Michael Chaves, the movie is expertly crafted and paced with lots of energy. No gore. No sex, just lots of jump scares following well-directed set ups. It’s a likable film if you enjoy being scared. It’s not so dark as to not have moments of humor, whether intentional or not.

The cast is good, especially the children. This is not one of those films where women shrink in fear while the men do their job. It’s not even one of those films where the kids are useless with no intelligence of their own (with moments of exception). In the final act, they are all equally up to acting as independent agents in their own defense. It’s good to see the family rising to the occasion together.

“The Curse of La Llorona” is a very soft R-rated film. It doesn’t achieve the pantheon of horror art like the Swedish “Let the Right One In” or “Hereditary.” But as far as scares and suspense go, it does the job.

The Curse of La Llorona” opens April 19 nationwide.