Dateworthy? “The Curse of La Llorona”
Is “The Curse of La Llorana” worth a Spring date night? Yes!
This film is a surprisingly fun entry in “The Conjuring” universe of films. It’s a spin-off about a single mom who teams up with a former priest to battle against a demonic legend. This movie is also somewhat less terrifying than the other films. But it amps up the thrills in this supernatural roller coaster that will make you snuggle up in fear and cheer on the Catholic heroes in their victory over evil.
Countless horror films rely on the distinct visual power of Catholic clergy and iconography in the battle between good and evil. The 1973 film “The Exorcist” was so intense in its approach that it terrified millions en route to becoming a box office smash. It even managed to win Best Picture at the Oscars.
“The Exorcists” featured a priest facing martyrdom in order to save a young girl from demonic possession. But it also had a grim, extremely disturbing tone. “The Exorcists” was one of the most doomed productions in Hollywood history. Cast and crew witnessed numerous accidents and even deaths on the set.
It took forty years for another exorcism themed film to shake up moviegoers on that same level. But when “The Conjuring” arrived in 2013, it proved to be a game changer for the genre. First, it focused on the true-life tale of a Catholic married couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren. They were the top laypersons ever allowed to perform exorcisms in America. The couple were unabashed supernatural superheroes. The audience easily rooted for them to win the battle.
“The Conjuring” managed to establish its terror in a unique way, too. It earned an R rating solely because of the intensity of the mood. However, the film had no foul language, sex, nudity, and little actual violence. The resulting worldwide hit inspired at least one direct sequel and two spin-offs in the “Annabelle” series. It also inspired last year’s hit “The Nun,” and now “The Curse of La Llorana.”
A mom finds faith by saving her children from terror
This new film plays off the Latin American folk legend of La Llorana. She’s a beautiful woman who drowned her children as revenge on her cheating husband. She wanders the earth in spectral form in an attempt to grab other children and claim them as her own.
The movie opens showing the initial drowning in 1800s Mexico. Then, the story jumps to 1973 Los Angeles. A recently widowed social worker named Anna (Linda Cardellini) is the mom of two. She’s called in to investigate a mother named Patricia (Patricia Velasquez) whose two sons were reported for missing too much school.
Anna finds Patricia’s boys locked in the closet, hiding in fear. She thinks she’s doing the right thing by removing them from the home and placing them in a Catholic shelter for the night. Meanwhile, Patricia is psychologically evaluated. Anna is sure that Patricia is crazy after the mom claims she was hiding her boys from La Llorana’s grasp. But that night, the evil spirit finds the boys and winds up leading them to their deaths in the LA river basin.
The Catholic faith in “La Llorana”
Anna is called to the death scene and brings her young son and daughter along in the car since it’s the dead of night. When her son sneaks out of the car against her wishes, he gets attacked by La Llorana. The young boy manages to flee back to the car. But the spirit follows them back to their home and the danger begins.
Anna never considered herself a believer. But the frightening occurrences drive her to seek advice from a priest. Father Perez (Tony Amendola) appeared in the first “Annabelle” movie. Father Perez notes that it could take weeks for an official, clerical exorcisms to be approved. So he informally refers Anna to a former priest named Rafael (Raymond Cruz) who is now a curandero.
Curanderos mix official exorcism techniques with an array of folk remedies. For instance, they blend La Llorana’s tears with holy water to form a sort of antivenom against her. They step into cases the clergy may have overlooked.
The result is a wildly fun and exciting battle royale showdown between the family and Rafael against La Lorena. The battle takes place all over Anna’s hugely spacious and staircase-laden house.
A rare treat featuring true Catholic heroes
Writers Gary Dauberman (“IT” and “Annabelle” films) and Emile Gladstone (“Army of One”) keep the key points of the “Conjuring” universe alive and well. They clearly establish that there is genuine good and evil in the world. Evil can be conquered only with complete trust in God.
Granted, the curandero angle is a bit questionable by traditional Catholic standards. But the film acknowledges that such people exist and are called upon by the Latino community. The crucifix and the Rosary are still powerful weapons against the demonic in the film.
The most entertaining aspect of the “Conjuring” films from a Catholic perspective is getting to see positive characters from our faith performed heroically. The performances in “La Llorona” are solid across the board. Director Michael Chaves makes his feature-film debut an impressive one. He keeps the story line and action moving at a constant rapid clip. The movie makes logical sense and respects the audience’s intelligence.
That’s a rare feat these days in horror films. Credit must also be given to James Wan, who directed teh first “Conjuring” and oversees its entire universe. Every one of the “Conjuring” related films has managed to avoid the “Exorcists” style problems. A priest arrived on set the first day and blessed the cast, crew, and sets.
That spirit is admirable, and so is the series, which deserves every bit of success.
Thrills: 10 out of 10
Performances: 8 out of 10
Story line: 8 out of 10
Laughs: 6 out of 10
Overall: 8 out of 10
Carl Kozlowski is a Catholic comedian, film reviewer, and journalist who is also the founder and co-owner of the podcast station www.radiotitans.com in Los Angeles. He reviews movies for the Catholic News Agency as well as the Christian site Movieguide.org, but has also worked with secular outlets including the Pasadena Weekly, Chicago Tribune and Esquire. He has also produced and hosted comedy shows for the LA Catholic Archdiocese's charities and performed at some of the nation's top clubs and with top comics including Dane Cook and Dave Chappelle. He strives to find the way to work with both Christian and secular audiences in all his career paths.