Mothers, Hide Your Children: Another Cinematic Adaptation of "The Legend of La Llorona" Hits Select Theatres Friday, January 7, 2022
In the trailer for The Legend of La Llorona, a distraught mother (Autumn Reeser) asks, “What is ‘a llorona’ and what does it want with my son?” Clearly, this mother isn’t a fan of low-budget horror. If she was, she’d probably recognize the Mexican folktale of La Llorona, or “the weeping woman,” which has served as the inspiration for a number of forgettable spooky flicks over the years. In 2019, the legend was brought to life in two film adaptations that proved to be somewhat more popular than their predecessors — Michael Chaves’ The Curse of La Llorona (the sixth feature installment in The Conjuring Universe) and Jayro Bustamante’s La Llorona.
First-time feature film director Patricia Harris Seeley brings the tale back into the realm of low-budget horror with The Legend of La Llorona, which stars Autumn Reeser (“The O.C.”, “Entourage”), Danny Trejo (Machete, Spy Kids), and Antonio Cupo (“Blood & Treasure”). Much like a straight-to-video or made-for-TV horror flick from the early 2000s, The Legend of La Llorona has a fairly decent storyline, but the acting, dialogue, editing, and effects leave much to be desired. Unlike those straight-to-video, low-budget horror films from the past, however, The Legend of La Llorona will receive a limited theatrical release starting January 7, 2022.
Now, back to the question at hand: “What is a llorona?” The details of the legend vary between sources, but here’s the gist: La Llorona is the ghost of a woman who drowned her own children in a fit of rage after discovering her husband with another woman. When she finally died, the woman’s soul remained behind and began wandering the earth in search of her deceased children (and stealing the children of other mothers in the process). In The Legend of La LLorona, an American family encounters the malevolent ghost during a getaway trip to Mexico. After suffering a tragic loss, Carly and Andrew Candlewood (Reeser and Cupo) book a stay for themselves and their son, Danny (Nicolas Madrazo), at a villa in Mexico. But apparently, they didn’t do much research when they made the reservation. As their taxi driver, Jorge (Trejo), warns them, the area where they’re staying isn’t safe — especially for children. As the family navigates grief and guilt, they find themselves up against an enraged and grieving spirit from the past.
Folklore and mythology can make for great cinema, but they can also make for formulaic and “easy” movies. The Legend of La Llorona falls into the latter category. By “easy,” I mean that once the writers had the initial idea in place, they filled out a tried-and-true plot map, slapped some unique names on stock characters and called it a day. If you watch The Legend of La Llorona expecting a spooky ghost movie that brings an ancient tale to life, you’ll be disappointed. But, if you watch the movie with low expectations, it’s not altogether a waste of 98 minutes. It quickly aligns with a familiar narrative template that anyone who’s ever read a book or watched a movie will be able to follow. It’s the kind of thing you’d watch when there’s absolutely nothing else on TV, and you have to finish it just to confirm that your predictions about the ending are correct. If you watch The Legend of La Llorona expecting a D-level horror movie and comically bad dialogue, you’ll probably be satisfied.
Writers Cameron Larson and Jose Prendes selected functional (but predictable) themes for the story. The overall plot works out rather nicely, but the little details are pretty sloppy. Larson, Prendes, and Seeley tried to spice things up by adding elements from the action and crime genres into the mix. But as a result, the story comes across as a touristy Americanized version of the legend. The creative team could have gone all-out with the crime elements and turned the flick into a fun and crazy cult-style movie — but in the end, the themes and style of The Legend of La Llorona are lukewarm at best.
Great dialogue can sometimes save a bland plot. But unfortunately, the script for The Legend of La Llorona doesn’t cut it. It’s not terrible, but it would have taken some seriously good acting to make the script work. At one point, when La Llorona has Danny in her clutches, Carly says, “She got him. She got Danny… She won. It’s over,” shaking her head half-heartedly as if she just lost a chess tournament rather than losing her son to a terrifying evil spirit. This line exemplifies one of the biggest problems with the performances in The Legend of La Llorona: the cast fails to display the right emotions at the right times. They shuffle awkwardly through their characters’ emotional transitions as they fumble through over-explanatory lines that could have easily been plucked from a mediocre children’s play. Some of the dialogue is at least corny enough to be comedic, a unique factor that always makes D-level movies at least somewhat entertaining.
To give credit where credit is due, Angélica Lara gives a solid performance as Veronica, the kind woman who runs the villa where the family stays. While she doesn’t get quite as much screen time as the rest of the cast, she certainly adds a small amount of credibility to the story. The flashback scene that depicts a traumatic event from Veronica’s past is the strongest one in the movie — at least until the special effects ruin it.
There’s something almost charming and nostalgic about the cheap and grungy effects, makeup, and costumes in The Legend of La Llorona. The visual and artistic style of the film recalls the made-for-TV Halloween specials that millennials grew up with. Parts of the flick are fun, and it just might satisfy your craving for trashy melodramatic TV. But it’s definitely not something you’ll be eager to revisit anytime soon. Or possibly ever again.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."