The Curse of La Llorona (which rhymes roughly with “My Sharona”) is the latest in what could be an endless series of spin-offs of The Conjuring franchise. Not as smart or scary as The Conjuring or The Conjuring 2, or even prequel Annabelle, Llorona delivers the goods when it counts.
The only real link between The Curse of La Llorona and The Conjuring is the presence of Tony Amendola reprising his role as “Father Perez” from Conjuring prequel Annabelle. It’s not much more than a cameo, but it demonstrates what a powerhouse brand name The Conjuring has become.
“La Llorona” lived in the 17th century, and drowned her children to get even with her cheating husband. Her spirit has been looking for substitute kids ever since. Linda Cardellini (TV’s Freaks and Geeks, Legally Blonde, Scooby Doo, Brokeback Mountain, Grandma’s Boy, TV’s ER, The Lazarus Project, AMC’s Mad Men, Avengers: Age of Ultron) plays a recently widowed Child Protective caseworker in the 1970s, who finds that the mother in one of her cases has sicced the vengeful spirit on her own children.
Cardellini is a talented pro, who’s seldom out of work for more than fifteen minutes at a sretch and plays the stressed mom with straight-faced sincerity. But it’s the kids, newcomer Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, who do most of the heavy lifting in this relatively straightforward spook show. We know from the outset that the pasty-faced shmoo with glowing eyes wants to drown the kids, which makes almost everything in their seventies home, from the deep, old-fashioned clawfoot bathtub to the inground swimming pool look threatening. Yes, there are times you should check your brain at the door, and logic isn’t at any particular premium here, but this spin-off doesn’t waste time and is effective despite all attempts to predict the action.
Michael Chaves makes his feature directorial debut here, after a background writing and directing in TV. He understands his job: Make sure the audience is looking anywhere but where the pasty-faced shmoo with glowing eyes is going to pop up next, and keep things moving. Mission accomplished. Anticipate the movie’s funhouse jumps to your heart’s content, he’s going to get you. The powers that be have already taken notice and Chaves is attached to direct The Conjuring 3.
The script, by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iacconis, is lean, spare and uncomplicated. No one’s trying to blaze new trails here. The aim is to produce a low-budget spook show that will get decent word of mouth from the popcorn crowd: A modest objective, competently realized.
Raymond Cruz plays an unorthodox shaman/exorcist who we’re not entirely sure we trust, and adds a welcome variation on the familiar proceedings. Tech credits are par all around. The movie is rated R, “for violence and terror.” The violence is not especially graphic, but it should be noted that young children are imperiled from beginning to end.
Unimaginative and formulaic, The Curse of La Llorona nonetheless gets the job done, and is a functional placeholder until The Conjuring 3 comes out.