The Curse of La Llorona is a box office hit, but its Easter weekend opening was dampened by some pretty brutal reviews from critics. An extended relative of the Conjuring movies, The Curse of La Llorona is based on the Latin-American folk tale of a woman who drowned her children, and is now cursed to wander the world weeping as she searches for them.
Directed by Michael Chaves, the movie is set in Los Angeles in the 1970s and stars Linda Cardellini as Anna, a social worker who accidentally turns her own children into a target for La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez). The unquiet spirit starts stalking her family with the aim of claiming the children's souls, and Anna eventually turns to former priest Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), who has experience dealing with the supernatural, for help.
Horror has been enjoying something of a renaissance in recent years, from massive hits like IT to smaller, critically-acclaimed movies like Hereditary and Suspiria, and the Conjuring movies have been a major part of this recent surge in success. Unfortunately, while The Curse of La Llorona might succeed at making people throw their popcorn in the air, it failed to impress the critics, with a score of just 33% on Rotten Tomatoes as of the time of writing. Here are some of the most brutal reviews.
This example of prepackaged horror is so by-the-numbers (emphasis on numb) that even the jump-scares don’t cause much of a jump. When the movie goes “boo!” and the viewer tries hard to stifle a yawn, something has gone wrong.
It’s the opposite of frightening: a sludgy collection of tired jump scares, inexpertly mounted period décor -- this time we're in a too-shiny 1973 Los Angeles -- and a continued slump into generic blahness.
Without using La Llorona to their advantage in the storytelling, [the screenwriters] reduce her to another generic monster-in-the-closet character who relies on dull CGI effects and jump scares to force its audience to flinch on command.
La Llorona, with her beady yellow eyes, blood-drained skin, and rotted mouth and fingernails is virtually indistinguishable from the antagonist from Corin Hardy’s The Nun... Even more predictably, The Curse of La Llorona relies heavily on a near-ceaseless barrage of jump scares, creaking doors and loud, shrieking noises.
Within the first 10 minutes of The Curse of La Llorona, the apparition has screamed in all of our faces, in extreme close-up. This quasi-scare is repeated so often that eventually 'the weeping woman' just seems like a peeved goth.
The film feels so blah is that there's so little to grab onto. The characters are wafer-thin, so we never wind up invested in their fates. There is no sense of dread or impending doom; instead it's just one jolt after another. It's like having someone jump out at you every five minutes, and about as much fun.
While not everyone was impressed by La Llorona's haunting, the movie wasn't universally disliked. Even among the negative reviews there was praise for Cruz's deadpan performance as Olvera, which is described as one of the highlights of the movie. Some reviewers also mentioned standout scares, like when La Llorona shows up while one of Anna's children is taking a bath. Here are some of the more positive reviews of The Curse of La Llorona:
[Chaves] stokes fear with simple and striking effects—round mirrors and oval windows that are the portals to apparitions who break them to reach their victims, trances that are dramatized with a chilling sparseness, hand-cranked car windows that open on their own and set their handles turning, ordinary hen’s eggs that harbor horrors. There’s a brief and ingenious sequence involving the wavering transparency of Samantha’s clear-plastic umbrella.
La Llorona is filled with nifty scares, as the ghost is seen in darkened car windows and transparent umbrellas and convex security mirrors. Not unlike the original Conjuring, it takes old-fashioned ghost-story and haunted-house devices — creaking doors and sleepwalking kids and conveniently timed blackouts — and revitalizes them.
The scares are plentiful and sometimes ticklishly funny in The Curse of La Llorona, an enjoyably old-fashioned ghost story... Anna and her children may spend much of the story in near-hell but when a stern shaman (the excellent Raymond Cruz) delivers the phrase “ta-da,” he and this movie show you a little bit of horror heaven.