Halloween Month Review: La Llorona (2019)
For better or for worse, this is one of the most overtly political horror films you'll see.
Also known as "The Weeping Woman", this film is not to be confused with the terrible Hollywood film The Curse of La Llorona
That potential confusion out of the way, for those who do not know, La Lorona is a spirit from the Latin American folklore who can be seen wailing for her drowned children.
Director Jayro Bustamante uses the legend only as a springboard to ruminate about the state of justice in today's world.
A Guatemalan dictator, Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz) orchestrates a genocide on the native Mayan population. Decades later, when he is passing his last years with style in a mansion, the court finally finds him guilty. The celebration of people seeking justice is short-lived, however, as the verdict is overturned due to a minor technicality.
Soon, his mansion becomes a fort surrounded by protestors who want him in jail. Enclosed inside are his wife Carmen (Margarita Kénefic) who is in complete denial of the atrocities committed and blames the women who were raped, Enrique's widowed daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz) who doubts her father but is dealing with her own grief to speak out. A bodyguard Letona (Juan Pablo Olyslager) stays in the house too and seems to know more about his ward than he lets on.
The film opens with Carmen practicing witchcraft with the several house-helps, trying to wish a positive court verdict for her husband. That very night Enrique hears someone crying in the night and soon all help leaves citing a mysterious presence ("She is here"). All except Valeriana (María Telón), a loyal help who has been with the family for the last 47 years.
The protest chants become a constant background music for the family and the family has to take a new help Alma (the enigmatic María Mercedes Coroy).
Is Alma who she says she is or there is more than meet the eye?
Everyone's beliefs are questioned as the family is forced to face the fact that there is a realm beyond and above them at work here.
La Llorna is visually arresting, well-paced, and has powerful themes but it stops short of being completely successful. Part of the problem seems to be that its politics is too on the nose to be really effective. Horror has been a reliable and effective vehicle for political and social causes but Bustamante seems to want to push the envelope and unfortunately has to rely on conventionality at the end.
The acting, at times, has certain awkwardness that reveals the thinness of material that the actors are having to work with. De La Hoz is the biggest victim of this. There is a thread, that if explored, would have given the actor more to do but it is left dangling to arrive at an ending that seems rushed.
These failings would have, perhaps, left another film forgettable but it is a testament to the timeliness of the subject matter - and in part, I feel, Busamante's anger towards it - that La Lorna remains forceful and haunting.
A lot of credit must also go to cinematographer Nicolás Wong who seems to realize that this is not a usual horror film that relies on jump scares and set-pieces, hence he invests the scenes with a dreamlike quality that enhance that give it the otherworldly feel.
Streaming on Shudder