Film Review: The Curse of La Llorona (dir by Michael Chaves)


The Curse of La Llorona is a boring film about a scary legend.

The legend of La Llorona is a well-known one in Mexico and the southwestern half of the United States.  It’s a story that I was told by both my mom and my aunts and, as a result, I never went off with a stranger while I was growing up.  Of course, I also had some pretty intense nightmares but that’s kind of the point.  If someone tells you the story of La Llorona and you don’t end up having a nightmare about being drowned by a weeping woman, they didn’t tell the story correctly.

La Llorona was originally named Maria.  She lived, in a rural village, with her family and she was famous for both her beauty and her virtue.  When a wealthy nobleman saw her and immediately proposed to her, Maria accepted.  However, the nobleman’s father was upset that his son was marrying into a poor family and he refused to accept Maria as his daughter-in-law.  Maria and her husband ended up having two sons and living in a house by the river.  Maria’s husband doted on their sons but he ignored her and eventually, Maria learned that he was having an affair.

In a fit of blind rage, Maria drowned her children in the river.  After realizing what she had done, Maria died of grief.  However, when she arrived at the gates of Heaven, she was asked why her children were not with her.  When Maria explained that she had lost them, she was told that she would not be allowed to enter Heaven until she found them.  Now, known as La Llorona (or “the weeping woman”), she wanders the Earth, crying and looking for her children.

Where does one find La Llorona?  It depends on who is telling the story.  Some stories say that you’ll only see her near a body of water.  My mom used to tell me that La Llorona could be anywhere, including under my bed or in the bedroom closet.  Regardless of where you might find her, La Llorona is always wearing her wedding dress and she’s always sobbing.  Approach her and she’ll grab you and either kidnap you or drown you, all the while begging for forgiveness.  Many have seen La Llorona but few have survived to tell the story.

“And that is why we do not talk to strangers,” my mother would say while I looked out the bedroom window, searching for the sight of La Llorona walking through the Texas night….

Unfortunately, The Curse of La Llorona never comes close to being as scary as the stories that I used to hear when I was growing up.  Instead, the film is a standard Conjuring-Insidious-Paranormal Activity type of film, with La Llorona continually popping up out of the shadows to frighten a social worker and widow named Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini), and her two children.  The film has a few jump scenes but it never creates enough atmosphere to be consistently scary and, even worse, it reduces La Llorona to just being a typically malevolent spirit in a wedding dress.  In the end, the film itself doesn’t seem to really understand what La Llorona wants nor does it have a clear idea of what she can or cannot do.  As such, the whole movie has a slapdash feel to it that makes it difficult to really maintain any suspense.

Technically, The Curse of La Llorona is a part of the Conjuring Universe.  Not only does the film take place in the 70s (which was apparently the decade when all the ghosts and spirits went crazy) but there’s also very brief flashback featuring that ugly Annabelle doll.  However, neither Patrick Wilson nor Vera Farmiga puts in an appearance, which is a shame because The Conjuring films really only work because of their chemistry.  Instead, Raymond Cruz shows up as an exorcist named Rafael.  Cruz gives a likable performance but, again, one gets the feeling that the film wasn’t sure what exactly it wanted to do with him.

Anyway, The Curse of La Llorona is a disappointment.  Fortunately, there’s a lot of good and genuinely frightening Mexican horror films about La Llorona.  I recommend checking out 2006’s Kilometer 31.

The Weeping Woman (1937, Pablo Picasso)

Let’s Talk About Nightmare Shark (dir by Griff and Nathan Furst)


Right now, we’re in the middle of SyFy’s Sharknado week.  On Sunday night, SyFy will premiering what they say is going to be The Last Sharknado.  In the days leading up to that moment, they’ve been reshowing all of their classic shark films and premiering a new shark film each night!

Thursday night’s premiere was Nightmare Shark!

Nightmare Shark kind of swam out of nowhere on Thursday and it ended up impressing the Hell out of not only me but almost everyone that I was watching it with.  There’s a neat little twist to Nightmare Shark, one that will be appreciated and loved by anyone who watches SyFy shark films.  In fact, it’s such a wonderful twist that I don’t want to ruin it for those of you who haven’t seen the film yet.  At the same time, I really can’t review the movie without revealing the details of the twist.

So, consider this to be your SPOILER WARNING!  If you haven’t seen Nightmare Shark, just take my word for it that it’s a scary and effective SyFy shark film and stop reading.  Because what follows is going to spoil a huge part of the film for you.  Here, I’ll give you a few minutes to navigate away from the page before I continue.

Here’s a picture of a cute kitty that the rest of us can look at while you leave:

Okay, let’s continue.

Shared cinematic universes are all the rage right now.  In fact, SyFy already has one of its own.  Ian Ziering making a cameo appearance in Lavalantula established that both that film and its sequel took place in the same chaotic universe as Sharknado.  Well, Nightmare Shark established a second cinematic universe.

The film itself deals with a group of shark attack survivors who, having been plagued by shark-related nightmares, agree to take part in an experimental drug trial.  What they don’t suspect is that the outwardly benevolent Dr. Novak (Tony Amendola) actually worships a Hawaiian shark god and his plan is to use them and their nightmares as a way to bring the shark out of their dreams and into the real world.  Among the survivors are Jolene (Lulu Jovovich) and Rob (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Gina (Rachele Brooke Smith) and Kaplan (Bobby Campo).  Fans of SyFy shark movies will immediately recognize them as the protagonists of, respectively, Trailer Park Shark and Atomic Shark.

So, there you go.  All three of these films take place in the same universe and personally, I would toss Ghost Shark in there as well.  (The Hawaiian shark god definitely seemed to have a bit in common with the Ghost Shark.)  Just as there’s a Sharknado Cinematic Universe, there’s also a Griff Furst Cinematic Shark Universe.

That was a wonderful Easter egg for all of us longtime fans of SyFy shark week.  Since, with the Sharknado franchise wrapping up, this could be the final shark week, Nightmare Shark also gave us a final chance to spend some time with some of our favorite shark movie protagonists.  Unfortunately, not all of them survive their nightmares.

Compared to the whimsical tone that’s present in most SyFy shark movies, Nightmare Shark was a seriously dark film.  Make no mistake about it, this was definitely a horror film.  In fact, it featured some of the most effective jump scenes that I’ve seen in a SyFy film.  The nightmares were all nicely realized and properly surreal.  The film did a good job of keeping viewers off-balance.  You were never quite sure who was awake or asleep and you spent most of the film looking for little clues at to whether we were seeing the real world or the dream world.  Though the film’s influences were clear — A Nightmare on Elm Street was a big one — Nightmare Shark still did a great job of establishing its own wonderfully twisted identity.  Among the cast, the clear stand-out was Tony Amendola, who was enjoyably sinister as Dr. Novak.

Nightmare Shark was an effective horror film, one that proved that there’s still new twists and scares to found in shark week.

Horror Film Review: Annabelle (dir by John R. Leonetti)


Annabelle

Remember Annabelle, the tres creepy doll from The Conjuring?

Well, she’s back and she’s starring in a film of her very own!  Annabelle is the first horror film to be given a wide release this October and, judging from the commercials, New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. are really hoping that you’ll remember just how scary and effective The Conjuring was when it comes time to decide whether you want to see Annabelle or Gone Girl this weekend.

Of course, Annabelle actually have very little do with The Conjuring.  Though Father Perez, the token concerned priest played by Tony Amendola, mentions Ed and Lorraine Warren, neither one of them actually appears in the film.  Neither do any of the other characters or ghosts from The Conjuring.  The only link between the two films is that doll.

Taking place in 1969, Annabelle is an origin story of sorts.  Doctor John Gordon (Ward Horton) buys a doll for his pregnant wife, Mia (Annabelle Wallis).  The doll looks evil from the minute that Mia unwraps it but, according to the film, it was actually harmless until a psychotic hippie girl (Tree O’Toole) bled on it.  That blood seeped into the doll’s eye and the next thing you know…

Annabelle2

No,  I’m not going to spoil it for you.  In fact, it’s really not necessary for me to spoil it for you because I imagine you can probably guess everything that’s going to happen.  If you’ve ever seen a haunted house film, you know exactly what’s going to happen when John goes to work and Mia gets left in the house alone.  If you’ve ever seen a demonic possession film, you can guess what’s going to happen when Mia happens to stumble across the occult book store next door.  And, if you’ve ever seen any film, you can guess that the book store is managed by a sassy mystic played by Alfre Woodard.

That’s right!  There’s nothing surprising about Annabelle!

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Horror films are unique in that they often times actually benefit from being so predictable.  You watch in dread because you know that something terrible is going to happen even though the characters in the film do not.  You know enough to yell, “Don’t open that door!” but the characters in the film don’t.  That’s exactly what makes a film like Annabelle scary.

The Conjuring, I thought, was not only a great horror film but it was also one of the best films of 2013.  That’s because, along with being a scary movie, The Conjuring also dealt quite intelligently with very real issues of faith and family.  The Conjuring was fun to watch because it was scary but it stayed with you because it was full of subtext.  Annabelle, on the other hand, is a film without subtext.  Everything important about Annabelle can be found right on the surface.

Annabelle is a film that exists solely to scare you and how much you enjoy it will probably depend on how much you enjoy  horror films to begin with.  The shock scenes are handled well, with an emphasis on sudden noise on the soundtrack and intimidating shadows appearing in the background.  Everything that distinguished The Conjuring — the attention to detail, the lively performances, and the imaginative plotting — has been pushed to the side to make room for the next scare.

As a result, Annabelle is one of those films that makes you jump while you’re watching it but doesn’t stick around in your head afterwards.  If you’re a fan of the horror genre and like a good scare, you’ll probably find something to enjoy in Annabelle.  (It’s no Devil’s Due but it’s still better than the latest Paranormal Activity film.)  If you’re not a horror fan — well, then you probably weren’t planning on seeing Annabelle in the first place.

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