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Unoriginal 'The Curse of La Llorona' still brings folktale fright

Horror film starring Linda Cardellini premiered at SXSW in March

Natalie Mokry, special to the American-Statesman
"The Curse of La Llorona" premiered at South by Southwest 2019 and hits theaters April 18. [CONTRIBUTED BY WARNER BROS. PICTURES]

It’s surprising there hasn’t already been a film about a folktale as old and familiar and as creepy as La Llorona. After all, the story is practically horror movie gold.

The tale of La Llorona, or “the weeping woman,” is a myth in Latin American culture about the ghost of a woman who drowned her children in the river. Since then, she wanders around crying, looking for them, and often tormenting those — especially the children — who hear her.

This is the driving force in “The Curse of La Llorona,” which premiered at South by Southwest in March and hits theaters this weekend. But the film itself (Michael Chaves’ feature debut, produced by literal horror movie master James Wan) takes place in the ’70s, following social worker Anna (Linda Cardellini) and her two children. When Anna visits the home of one of her cases, Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez), and finds Patricia’s children locked up in a closet with burn scars on their arms, she has no choice but to take them in despite the protests from both the mother and the boys that “she’ll get them.”

It is not until a little later that Anna finds out who “she” is. But when Anna does, the social worker is already in the thick of it herself and must recruit outside help to rid her family of La Llorona, whatever it takes.

“The Curse of La Llorona” is all in for the jump scares, and what the film sometimes lacks in story and character development it replaces with suspense through its skillful, intense sound design alone. The story hits all of the beats expected from a horror film, with nothing particularly inventive along the way, but Chaves has an astute sense of how to continuously amplify the scares.

For someone who grew up with the idea of La Llorona, or is intrigued by her myth, or wants the fright of seeing her come to life on the screen, the film is worth a watch. Just maybe remember to douse yourself with some sage on your way in and out.

'The Curse of La Llorona'

Grade: C

Starring: Linda Cardellini, Patricia Velasquez.

Rated: R for violence and terror.

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

Theaters: Alamo Lakeline, Alamo Slaughter, Barton Creek, Cedar Park, City Lights, Evo, Flix, Gateway, Hill Country, Lakeline, Metropolitan, Moviehouse 620, Moviehouse Lantana, Pflugerville 20, Round Rock, Sky Dripping, Southpark, Stone Hill, Westgate. IMAX: Barton Creek, Gateway.