La Llorona – not to be confused with last year's Warner Bros. release The Curse of La Llorona – is a movie I respected more than I enjoyed. It delves into some heavy themes and is made with great style, yet it's also extremely slow, with no real horror content until the very end. Based on a piece of Hispanic American folklore about a woman who drowns her children, the film will play best to viewers who are very familiar with that tale. Those who are not may experience impatience.
The pivotal character is Enrique, a retired general accused of helping commit genocide against Mayans several decades ago. Outside his home are hordes of protesters calling for his head on a stick. His wife supports him dutifully, believing his denials, but his daughter isn't so sure based on how he treated the father of her child. As the family hides from the angry mob outside, some paranormal things begin occurring, and they appear to be targeting Enrique, possibly for his past deeds. Meanwhile, the housekeeper, Valeriana, may be the only one fully capable of grasping the severity of the situation.
Director/co-writer Jayro Bustamante deserves credit for delving into the horrors of genocide, the way the impact of it lingers across generations, and the mindset that allows those who perpetrated it to go into denial. La Llorona has a seriousness of purpose that marks it as an ambitious film. Cinematographer Nicolas Wong provides a gloomy, atmospheric look that is darkly beautiful. The effect is powerful in certain scenes, particularly the courtroom sequence where hostile onlookers loom ominously behind Enrique as he awaits his verdict.
For all those good qualities, La Llorona has such a slow pace that it never works up the kind of energy that would have tied all its positives together. Scenes begin before they need to, or end much later than they should. It's one of those films where when Enrique wanders through a darkened house at night, we have to sit and watch him slowly go through every single room. I found myself frequently restless, wishing the story would pick up some speed.
The true horror, meanwhile, is delayed. Only mild signs of it appear in the early going. Enrique hears a woman screaming, water overflows, etc. In the last ten or so minutes, we finally get the more overt scary stuff. That would be okay if the picture moved at a faster clip because, like I said, the story's ideas are fascinating. But when everything feels in slow motion, the relative absence of something to grasp onto becomes more noticeable.
La Llorona will be available on the Shudder streaming service starting August 6. If you're a subscriber, you have nothing to lose by taking a look. Personally, although I greatly admire the attempt, the movie left me wanting more.
out of four
La Llorona is unrated, but contains adult language, mature themes, and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.