The Curse of La Llorona is hauntingly bad

The Curse of La Llorona is hauntingly bad
Only in Theaters April 19, 2019

Starring Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen and Roman Cristou. Written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. Directed by Michael Chaves. Opens Friday at theatres everywhere. 93 minutes. 14A

Jump scares are the easiest way to spot a horror hack at work.

Used judiciously and creatively, they can add a pleasurable shiver to the spine. Employed indiscriminately to bludgeon the senses, as they are in the steaming load of hackitude that is Michael Chaves’ The Curse of La Llorona, the effect is like a snotty kid repeatedly hitting you with a Nerf bat.

This is what happens when franchise greed is put ahead of storytelling basics. The film is the latest instalment of what is (hysterically) called “The Conjuring universe,” incorporating elements of producer James Wan’s better and scarier films, some of which he directed.

This one’s about a 17th-century maternal wraith from Mexico who intersperses weeping with murdering and who somehow ends up in the Los Angeles of 1973. No satisfying reason is given why La Llorona (“Weeping Woman”), condemned to eternal grief as punishment for drowning her two sons in a fit of marital rage, is now preying upon two L.A. single moms, constantly leaping out of the shadows at them.

La Llorona (rhymes with “My Sharona”) dresses all in white like the bride of Frankenstein, with a face that suggests she’s the moodier kin of the title hag in The Nun, another part of Wan’s world.

The main threatened mom is Anna, played by Linda Cardellini, who should by rights be getting better gigs on the strength of the Oscar-winning Green Book. Anna is a widowed social worker, often forced to choose between family life and her job, trying her best to raise her preteen kids Sam (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) and Chris (Roman Christou).

Anna isn’t the most observant of souls. Despite being constantly warned by priests, other parents, her children and her own damned eyes that some kind of kid-snatching fiend is on the loose, she dismisses it all as “a folk tale.” She has a bad habit of leaving her fearful kids on their own, and she mostly shrugs when they start getting what look like cigarette burns on their arms, which suggest La Llorona is a nicotine addict as well as a sadist.

Meanwhile, director Chaves just keeps chucking stuff at the screen. The jump scares, never terrifying, quickly become annoying. The picture goes completely loco during the hellzapoppin’ finale favoured by producer Wan, as a defrocked priest turned ghostbuster named Rafael (Raymond Cruz), brings his bag of tricks to Anna’s home to confront La Llorona.

As Rafael threw everything from holy water to magical seeds to La Llorona’s own tears at the advancing wraith, I started wishing I could hasten the process by setting ablaze the small bunch of herbal sage — yet another spook-chasing remedy — provided by Warner Bros. publicity reps to attendees at a preview screening.

But that would have been a scary and dangerous thing to do, and it would have clashed with the unscary and bootless antics on the screen.
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