María Mercedes Coroy as Alma
Sabrina De La Hoz as Natalia
Margarita Kenéfic as Carmen
Julio Diaz as Enrique
María Telón as Valeriana
Juan Pablo Olyslager as Letona
Ayla-Elea Hurtado as Sara
Co-Written and Directed by Jayro Bustamente; Co-Written by Lisandro Sanchez
La Llorona Review:
The legend of The Weeping Woman has been utilized to varying degrees on both the big and small screen over the past 50 years and while the James Wan-produced The Curse of La Llorona was a fun enough jump fest, it suffered thoroughly from a story jam-packed with clichés and flat characters, especially the backstory for the titular entity and now she has finally been brought to life in powerful and compelling fashion with Jayro Bustamente’s latest effort.
Indignant retired general Enrique finally faces trial for the genocidal massacre of thousands of Mayans decades ago. As a horde of angry protestors threatens to invade their opulent home, the women of the house—his haughty wife, conflicted daughter, and precocious granddaughter—weigh their responsibility to shield the erratic, senile Enrique against the devastating truths being publicly revealed and the increasing sense that a wrathful supernatural force is targeting them for his crimes. Meanwhile, much of the family’s domestic staff flees, leaving only loyal housekeeper Valeriana until a mysterious young Indigenous maid arrives.
So often when it comes to a story centered on the titular entity, we are treated to a strict recreation of the legend of a woman who is unloved by her husband and violently drowns their two children after finding him sleeping with another woman and then drowns herself, but is denied entrance to heaven and wanders the Earth crying for her lost sons and taking children and drowning them in either a nearby river or the river she drowned her sons in. It’s not a bad story, if done right it can be really interesting to watch this devolution of the woman who would become the wandering spirit, but the problem is she’s too often used as a lackluster scare tactic lingering in the background of an even more boring story.
Thankfully, Bustamente and co-writer Lisandro Sanchez have found a way to not only deliver a moving present day story with a chilling horror tale, but also doing so while hardly using the titular entity — and that is by no means a flaw of the film. Strictly playing out in either its courtroom setting or Enrique’s home, the script allows audiences to actually find themselves drawn in to the chilling anti-war critiques, delving into an oft-unexplored and heartbreaking subject of the Guatemalan filmmaker’s home country. While some of its moments of non-movement dialogue feels a little too much like an exposition dump, the plot and character history being revealed at least proves to be intriguing enough to forgive its delivery.
Like some of the best elevated horror movies, namely The Witch or The Blair Witch Project, when it comes to delivering on the chills and thrills Bustamente chooses to keep things ambiguous and the atmosphere palpable rather than endless sightings of the titular entity. While this may make the film sound more like a psychological thriller in the vein of Midsommar than a horror pic, it doesn’t remove any kind of menace from the atmosphere, with nearly every scene of its 97-minute runtime filled to the brim with dread over what we may or may not be seeing on screen.
Part of the success from this spawns from the framing of every scene in the film, be it a handheld walking shot, a slow dolly or Steadicam, every image put on screen not only looks beautiful but feels like a mystery in and of itself. Be it the daytime scenes in which there is so much white cloth and curtains blowing in the wind it’s hard to believe some of them aren’t the malevolent spirit or the nighttime in which characters wander around the empty mansion in the dark, Bustamente keeps audiences guessing on when and if something terrifying will grace the scene alongside the powerful performances on display from its cast.
While some of its conversations feel more like exposition dumps than authentic revelations, the story still proves compelling and powerful, the atmosphere haunting and intense and Bustamente’s direction is superb, resulting in arguably the best adaptation of the iconic legend on screen while also offering a wonderful twist to it.