The Curse Of La Llorona (2019)

The Conjuring universe is weird. It started off very good with the first movie, then it started spinning off into Annabelle (3 of them now), The Nun, and now this. There have been 7 completed films released in the franchise, with 3 more planned for the future. It’s time to admit, I don’t get it. I don’t get the massive success of them considering the average nature of them. I wouldn’t mind if they were different and they each had their own identity and distinct flavour, but so many of them are the same movie repeated again and again, maybe that’s what horror is now but I’m not a fan. A lot of scares are repeated too, I get the feeling if you watched these all in quick succession you’d struggle to tell the difference between a lot of them. Saw a chart that said horror movies can be categorised in 6 sub-genres: gore/disturbing, psychological, killer, monster, zombie, paranormal. So far, all of these films have been in the last category. I’m not asking them to suddenly do The Thing but I just want something different from what they’ve already released (really close to each other as well so you don’t even get time to forget the similarities).

So, onto this particular film. As you can probably guess I wasn’t too impressed, mainly because I found it really dull. Plus, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve already seen a lot of the scares before. I had an issue with the casting too. It’s a very Hispanic movie, set in Hispanic lore and traditions which are integral to the plot. Most of the cast are Hispanic, with one exception, the lead. She was played by Linda Cardellini, who you may know from Scooby-Doo.

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Yeah, much Hispanic.

I know, whitewashing happens, but it’s not usually this noticeable. The film isn’t even good enough to distract you from this. La Llorona is a real tale, it’s a genuine thing people believe and it’s a terrifying concept. So for it to be reduced to a cookie-cutter generic “thing goes woooo” is disappointing. Much like a lot of these films the “powers” are indecisive. There are moments where she’s in a perfect position to kill someone and then just doesn’t, despite that being her goal. There’s a point where the ghost is in a room alone with a child that she wants to kill, so she washes her hair. She does later hold her head under the water, so it ended with her doing the attempted kill, but it should have happened earlier and the only reason it didn’t was that the film-makers wanted a disturbing image. And it is a disturbing image, but it breaks the story.

Like I said, the legend of La Llorona is a fascinating one about a woman wandering the earth looking for her children so she can get into heaven. She kidnaps children and then drowns them. In the film this translates to her locking doors and doing that sudden “creepy forward movement” that these films love, then cut to black. This doesn’t always happen near rivers, which would have made it a more effective film. Actually a much more effective use of the legend is if the entire film was set in a campsite etc, somewhere near a river. As it is the film turns into a generic haunted house film for the closing section. It should have been set near a river for the entire film and used that. Would have allowed you to stick to the story, have more natural looking deaths, have an ensemble cast of children that you could slowly kill off (as opposed to killing two at the start, and that’s pretty much it), and would allow you to get better images (a mother watching La Llorona approach her child whilst she’s on the opposite side of the river unable to help would be an arresting image). This film has no differences from the other films in the franchise, and I cannot overstate how much of a wasted opportunity that is.

So in summary, not just a bad film, but a very disappointing one too.

The Conjuring 2

First off, yes, it is better than Annabelle, although for it to be worse than Annabelle it would have to be basically a group of people shining torches and going “woo” in the dark (and Most Haunted have already got that covered). It contains some good scares, it’s beautifully directed and it has child actors who are actually good.

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More of which later

I preferred this to the first one too, which was one of the most highly regarded horror films of the last few years. Does this mean it’s better? I have no idea, I’m aware of how strong personal bias can be, and I saw the first one in a house, whereas this one I saw in cinema, and horror is a genre made for cinema. Not just for the darkness and the volume, but also because of instant audience feedback, much like laughing, when you hear other people be scared it sets the tone and makes you more scared. And of course you’re forced to pay attention to it, you can’t sit there checking your phone (well, you can, but if you do, you’re a c*nt).

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I also worry part of me preferring this is because it’s set in England, and as such it’s nice to see all the little nods and references. Sadly this usually means there’s one other risk; Americans attempting English accents. Luckily they cast an actual English actress as the mother, oddly enough though some of the kids aren’t English, one’s American and one’s Australian. But aside from a few minor vocal discrepancies, it’s very hard to notice and you could easily believe they’re English. Whilst we’re on the subject; when did actress’s in horror films get so good? It’s supposed to be a cliche that if you’re on a film set surrounded by people who can’t act you’re either on a porn or a horror. Yet with Maika Monroe in It Follows, and now Madison Wolfe in this, studios will no longer be able to get away with dud casting. I cannot overestimate how strong Madison Wolfe’s performance is in this, giving a performance well beyond her 13 years, bringing to mind Linda Blair in The Exorcist. She’s been in other films before but usually as a “main character when she was younger”, but on this the entire film is dependent on her. If you don’t buy her character and her fear, then the film is dead quicker than one of Henry VIII’s wives.

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The other performances? Well they’re okay, Vera Farmiga seems to be slightly phoning it in as Lorraine Warren this time, Patrick Wilson doesn’t have much to do but furrow his brow, Lauren Esposito does well with what she’s given but reminds me too much of someone I know for that not to be a distraction. Make no mistake though, this is definitely Wolfe’s film and I’m looking forward to see where her career goes from here, she’s definitely got potential. Special mention must also go to the make-up team, who do a fantastic job on the characters, making you question whether they’re possessed or just really exhausted, the pale faces the red eyes really help sell the fear contained within the film. Praise must also go to James Wan, who’s directorial style makes me really excited about Aquaman (which is something I never thought I’d say). There’s a fantastic shot near the end of one of the children standing near an open window in the rain and it just looks perfect, it’s like a poster shot it’s so sublime.

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Very similar to this, but better

Now, onto the bad, again, the story is a little weak. It repeats the same story beats as a lot of horror films as such you’re never really invested in it and you don’t lose yourself in the moment, and it all got a bit silly towards the end. There’s a reveal at the end (which I won’t spoil for you) which they seem to use as an excuse to throw in different “scary” images and characters, but not really that effectively, it’s too short to stick with you, but so long that you get bored with it, almost like they were trying to get as many iconic characters invented for potential spin offs as they could. Secondly, the scares. Now, this film does have some great scares, but they won’t stick with you, some of them are almost literally a guy sneaking up behind you and saying “boo”, they’re instant scares. They make you jump and provide good reaction shots for people to use in publicity, but once you leave the cinema all fear is over. You don’t see the world differently like you did after It Follows, you’re not left changed by the experience, every scare takes place in the moment. As such it’s destined to be one of those films teenagers watch in groups and sit in the dark (a genre I shall now deem; “frat house horror” as that seems to be the most popular place to watch horror movies according to American TV and films). Basically, it’s the feature length equivalent of one of those jump scare videos your asshole friend sends you, only over two hours long. Oh, that’s another point, this film’s over two hours long (two and a half if include trailers). That’s way, way WAY too long for it to keep momentum. The longer a film, the more chance someone will have to leave to go piss, which in a cinema completely breaks all immersion.

So to sum up;

If you like horror (or are interested in film-making) then see this film, but it won’t change your mind if you don’t like the genre.

If You Liked This:

Watch: The Conjuring, obvious really. Now you don’t need to have seen that film to understand the sequel as it does a pretty good job of telling you about the characters without it seeming like it’s repeating itself.

Read: About the Enfield Poltergeist, the situation which this film is based on.