Enrique Monteverde (Jose Diaz) lives in a mansion in Guatemala. He’s an old man, one who look harmless on first glance. He always has an Oxygen tank nearby. His family says that he’s suffering from Alzheimer’s and, therefore, can’t always be held responsible for some of the things that he might say. He shamelessly leers at the younger woman who work in his home. His family says that he’s always been a flirt but he doesn’t mean any harm or offense. His family insists that he’s just an old man with dementia who is hoping to pass away peacefully while surrounded by his loved ones.
The protestors who gather daily outside of Enrique’s mansion have a different opinion of the man. They chant and hold up signs illustrated with the faces of their missing relatives. Before he retired, Enrique was a general. He fought the communist guerillas. Previously, he was convicted of committing genocide against the indigenous people of Guatemala but his conviction was overturned by a higher court. There are other retired generals who know that, if Enrique had gone to prison, it would not have been long until they followed him. Just because people are going on trial and even getting convicted, that’s not guarantee of justice.
Enrique’s wife, Carmen (Margarita Kenefic)m insists that Enrique is innocent and that all of his accusers are lying. Enrique’s daughter, Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz), is less sure while his granddaughter, Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado), just thinks of Enrique as being her somewhat goofy grandfather. Meanwhile, his housekeeper, Valeriana (Maria Telon), remains strangely devoted to him. Even after a scared and confused Enrique fires a gun in the house because he swears he heard someone moving in the darkness, Valeriana stays. The rest of the household staff quits. Alma (María Mercedes Coroy), a young woman from Valeriana’s village, comes to the home to work as a maid.
Enrique continues to insist that some sort of curse has been placed over the mansion and that something evil has entered the house. Is he just suffering, as his family assumes, from dementia or is he correct? Even as the protests continue outside and the enigmatic Alma hints that she has a secret of her own, Carmen finds herself haunted by nightmares and visions of her husband’s crimes.
La Llorona is a film that combines two horrors, one legendary and one very real. There is, of course, the legend of the weeping woman. She is said to haunt the night, crying for her drowned children and, in some cases, killing anyone who tries to help her. And there’s the very real horror of the war crimes that were committed, by various military dictatorships, against the indigenous people of Central and South America. Though Enrique may be a fictional creation, the crimes that he and others committed were not. La Llorona is more than just a haunted house story. It’s a film about the crimes of the past and how those crimes continue to haunt the present. Like many prominent men, Enrique is protected not by the loyalty of those he worked with but instead by the knowledge that the minute one guilty war criminal actually pays for his crimes, they’ll all end of paying. The political and legal establishment will do what it has to do to protect itself by protecting men like Enrique. But, as this film demonstrates, the sins of the past cannot be escaped in present.
Unfortunately, the premise is a bit more interesting than the execution. The film’s deliberate pacing often lends La Llorona a dream-like feel but, in other scenes, the film just feels slow. The idea of the legendary weeping woman acting as a sort of vigiliante is an interesting one but the story itself is a bit predictable. That said, the cast all give strong and memorable performances and the film uses the horror genre to discuss disturbing truths that many would rather ignore. Flawed or not, La Llorona is a good example of how the horror genre can be used to comment on the past and the present.
La Llorna was a Guatemala’s submission for the 2020 Oscar for Best International Film. Though it deserved a nomination for ambition alone, it didn’t make it beyond the 15-film shortlist. Fortunately, nominated or not, the film can currently be viewed on Shudder.