When The Curse of La Llorona first came to light, it seemed like a Conjuring movie. James Wan producing at Warner Bros./New Line tackling a creepy ghost tale that feels right at home in that franchise. It reeked of Conjuring. However, the studio decided to avoid making that connection throughout all of the marketing other than to say that it's from the producers who brought us those very same movies. But the movie recently held its world premiere at SXSW and surprise! It's a Conjuring movie, which is actually the most telling way to describe it top to bottom and will probably let most moviegoers know right away if this is a go or pass for them.
The Curse of La Llorona centers on a social worker named Anna (Linda Cardellini), a single mom who is doing the best she can under her difficult circumstances. One night she has to go handle one of her cases, a troubled mother who has been accused of endangering her children. After ignoring a strange warning from this mother, Anna is soon caught in the grips of the terrifying La Llorona, a figure thought to be just a myth who drowned her own children hundreds of years ago and now searches the land of the living for new children to take their place. With the lives of her kids at stake, she seeks the help of a former priest who now specializes in this sort of haunting, who may be their only hope of escaping La Llorona.
This comes from first time director Michael Chaves. It certainly doesn't feel like a movie from a first time director. It's a big budget studio horror movie that looks slick and was clearly made for the widest possible audience to enjoy. And it feels exactly like that kind of movie. It's a horror movie of the roller coaster variety, meaning it's going to be the most enjoyable when treating it as a ride with a group of people gathered together to go on that ride together. Scream together. Laugh together. It's why these movies tend to make a lot of money. It's what these Conjuring universe movies do well.
That having been said, it's amazing what a major difference there is versus being a Conjuring universe movie or a movie titled The Conjuring (be it the first one or the sequel). The spin-offs haven't quite managed to capture that same level of magic as the James Wan-directed main entries, but they have their moments and some are better than others. In this case, it's straight up the middle. The Curse of La Llorona is a very familiar haunted house style possession-esque movie that horror lovers have seen many times. It doesn't reinvent the wheel by any stretch. Instead, it rolls that familiar wheel down a dark, creepy hallway in a crowd-pleasing, efficient manner.
The performances help elevate the movie a bit, and it's nice to see Linda Cardellini, who only seems to get better as her career progresses, get to carry something on her shoulders. Raymond Cruz also has a fun turn here as the reluctant religious figure who must exorcize this demon, while also serving as the comedic relief. It's a movie that does the quiet/loud thing reasonably well. Quiet while building tension, loud to release it. Wash, rinse, repeat. The standard for these types of movies. But there are some standout scares and sequences in the bunch.
There are few mysteries here. Now that we know this is a Conjuring movie it's one of those situations where those who have seen the marketing material probably know what they're going to get. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that. Just know that's what is going on here. Some may be burnt out on this sort of thing or be hoping for something more inventive. Those moviegoers need not apply. However, those who just enjoy this sort of thing for what it is will likely have a fine time getting spooked with their friends. Warner Bros. is set to release The Curse of La Llorona in theaters on April 19.