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With: Linda Cardellini, Patricia Velásquez, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Roman Christou, Tony Amendola, Raymond Cruz, Sean Patrick Thomas, Marisol Ramirez, Irene Keng
Written by: Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis
Directed by: Michael Chaves
MPAA Rating: R for violence and terror
Running Time: 93
Date: 04/19/2019

The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Shocker Mom

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though this horror movie certainly could have been scarier and made better use of its premise, it's still an accomplished, skillful effort in terms of its crisp, fluid look and spooky sound design.

In The Curse of La Llorona, it's the early 1970s in Los Angeles. A busy social worker and widowed mother of two, Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini), learns that one of her cases, Patricia (Patricia Velásquez), has locked her two boys in a closet. Over Patricia's protests, she unlocks the door and lets them out. She finds burn marks on the boys' arms, but they insist that their mother didn't do it.

Before long, Anna's own children Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) and Chris (Roman Christou) begin hearing weeping sounds and experience a ghostly figure, La Llorona, marking their own arms. A priest (Tony Amendola) sends Anna and her kids to Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), a former priest who now deals in mystic arts, for help. Can they stop the malevolent ghost from taking Anna's children?

A feature directing debut by Michael Chaves, The Curse of La Llorona is the sixth entry in the Conjuring universe. It effectively copies the directing style of James Wan (The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2), who remains here as producer. While it often feels like a copy, it's undeniably more effective than many other, choppy, shaky-cam horror movies. The traveling Steadicam work, the lengthy shots, the establishing of three-dimensional space, and the sharp editing, all contribute to a strong moodiness.

The creepily quiet sound design is enhanced by a score by Joseph Bishara. Weirdly, the R-rated movie feels somewhat bloodless and not particularly edgy; it's more like watching a classic haunted-house movie than anything fresh or startling. It's a shame the La Llorona legend couldn't have been used in a more interesting way, shedding light on what she means to specific cultures, rather than appropriating her and turning her into just another standard-issue movie ghost.

But the movie's humans, especially an immensely likable Cardellini, a cool-as-ice Cruz ("Tuco," from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul), and a quietly consoling Amendola, who explains the legend, help make The Curse of La Llorona a decently watchable experience.

Warner Bros.'s Blu-ray release includes a bonus DVD and digital copy. Picture and sound are both excellent, preserving the movie's shadowy spookiness. Extras include three short "making-of" featurettes, 11 minutes' worth of deleted scenes, and storyboards (presented alongside their finished sequences in the film). Audio options include Dolby Atmos, Dolby 5.1, English descriptive, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Subtitles include English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

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