★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Jayro Bustamante
A stunningly beautiful film that follows a not so beautiful period of time in Guatemala’s tumultuous and unfortunate history. This horror film, that’s awfully light on the horror, shows audiences that sometimes the scares don’t come from ghouls, but they come from right-wing juntas.
La Llorona, not to be confused with 2019’s Curse of La Llorona, follows the 36 year (yes…you read that right, 36 year) civil war/genocide that was waged upon the poor and ethnic Mayan peoples. Some estimate this U.S.-sponsored travesty killed as many as 200,000 people all in the name of halting the paper-thin communist boogey man.
This emotionally quizzical version of the La Llorona tale takes place in present day Guatemala and involves the patriarch of the Monteverde family, aging junta leader, General Monteverde (Julio Diaz). Right in the epicenter of a war crimes trial and a family who’s familial bonds are weathered and tired, General Monteverde still lords over the entire proceeding with the quiet fist of a fallen dictator. In the middle of it all the General’s entire ethnically Mayan staff quits on him and he and his family are left with little-to-no help. That is until a mysterious young Mayan woman from the country, Alma María Mercedes Coroy, shows up and offers to help the family with the basics of surviving a war crimes tribunal.
As Alma is drawn to the General’s granddaughter, his wife and daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz) are fraught with concern about the growing protesters outside their compound. The General clearly stuck in his ways is using his age and faux dimensia like a well-used crutch.is schtick is broken, sad, and unconvincing. Moderately odd things begin to lay themselves out before the Monteverde family. Strange voices, Alma’s less than credible origin story, and a series of terrifyingly real dream sequences concerning the country’s ever-present genocide.
Problem is that all the spooky happenings are only lightly spooky, they’re placed in a manner far too sparse to create any real and ongoing dread, and this slow-burn punch line is saved for the film’s last few minutes. Left on the table are so many interesting pieces and parts. Everything from General’s daughter’s husband who’s disappeared, to the fact that his maid may have previously been a consort, and even his wife’s odd an off-putting acceptance of the genocide — all are sadly left unexplored. On their own each of these weirdly creepy story lines could have made a stand alone spook show. Left alone, the audience is left badly wanting much more.
La Llorona does come around to the weeping woman mythology in a really interesting fashion, but unlike its Conjuring brethren, it waits too long and it segregates the ghouls from the genocide. Sure, there’s ghouls, but they’re not of the Conjuring flavor and there’s not a single jump scare among them. To be clear, La Llorona is a really interesting take on horror and the fact that life’s legitimate scares don’t come from ghosts and monsters, but from one’s own government and societal institutions. Where 2020’s His House hit this balancing act with aplomb, La Llorona unfortunately just comes close.
La Llorona is likely PG-13, possibly Rate R, and this Shudder Original is streaming on…Shudder.