It appears that La Llorona has recently become sought-after source material in the film industry. Just last year, Warner Bros. released The Curse of La Llorona, a lackluster affair that didn’t do the Hispanic folktale an ounce of justice. Another film centered around the Weeping Woman, starring Danny Trejo, is currently in post-production. Then, of course, there’s Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante’s unique take on the legend, simply titled La Llorona, arriving on Shudder this Thursday.
La Llorona, or the Weeping Woman, is the spirit of a woman who drowned her own children and then herself. Forced to wander the earth in search of her childrens’ spirits, La Llorona kidnaps and drowns children. Bustamante ties the legend into very real–and very recent–Guatemalan history, dealing with the genocide of the Mayans and the fallout of such horrible acts of violence.
“I forbid you to think about that.”
La Llorona centers around the family of a retired general, who is facing charges of war crimes for his part in the genocide of indigenous people. General Enrique insists he is innocent, and he only did what it took to serve his country. The general public, however, is calling out for justice. After he is initially found guilty, the verdict is overturned, and Enrique returns to his mansion with his family. Soon after, protestors surround the estate, and a mysterious girl arrives to work as a servant for the household.
It’s hard to even classify La Llorona as a horror film, as the central premise has very little to do with its namesake. Bustamante is clearly more focused on the familial and political drama than he is the supernatural. Most of the film spends time on the women surrounding Enrique and their varying feelings about his past sins. His wife is–for the most part–content to turn a blind eye. His daughter, a doctor worried about her aging parents’ health, struggles with her father’s violent past and the sickly state he’s currently in. And his granddaughter is oblivious to why everyone hates her grandfather. She’s just content to hang out with the new servant, Alma.
On the other hand, Alma perturbs Enrique. Her odd behavior and her sudden appearance makes him uneasy. However, his family passes his concern off as another symptom of his old age and his tendency to chase after women. To make matters worse, the protests outside grow more violent, trapping the family indoors. The family grows increasingly frustrated with Enrique and their situation, leading to what should be an emotionally explosive finale.
“Protect our family from all evil.”
The third act of La Llorona is the kind of inconsequential ending that leaves you feeling cheated. The big reveal is obvious from the first act. Character arcs are incomplete. A toothless ending that provides no growth or catharsis hinders the thematic resonance. Only one character truly gets something that resembles a closed arc, but it’s not a very satisfying one.
Don’t get me wrong; La Llorona is not without merit. The performances are all stellar, especially Sabrina De La Hoz, who plays Enrique’s conflicted daughter Natalia to perfection. The cinematography is also gorgeous, opting for long takes and slow zooms to enhance character moments. The movie is at its best when it’s content being a drama; the supernatural elements are where it falters.
I commend Bustamante for doing something different with the source material, and for bringing to light the political unrest that still plagues Guatemala today. It’s a bold move, but it unfortunately doesn’t pay off in any meaningful way. La Llorona is a slow burn to nothing, a familial drama without an ending. The first two acts, while slow, boast some interesting character-driven moments. The final fifteen minutes eschews those moments for horror that doesn’t hit, and the movie ends up drowning in its own ambition.
Would it be possible to get La Llorona sans la Llorona? Now that’s a movie I’d be interested in seeing.
Overall Score 2.5/5
La Llorona streams exclusively on Shudder August 6th.