La Llorona (2020)
Directed by: Jayro Bustamante
Premise: A Guatemalan general is accused of genocide. The general and his family barricade themselves inside their home due to protesters outside. A mysterious woman joins the housekeeping staff and supernatural phenomena begin occurring.
What Works: In the past few years there have been several films about La Llorona, a Latin American folktale of a woman who committed infanticide and whose spirit is cursed to roam the land, weeping and preying on children. Filmmaker Jayro Bustamante has adapted the concept and given it a fresh twist. This movie takes place in Guatemala as the country reckons with the genocide committed against the Maya people in the 1980s. A general is tried and convicted of crimes against humanity but he is ultimately released on a technicality. The Guatamalan people are outraged and stage protests outside the general’s home where he and his family take shelter, among them the general’s wife, daughter, and granddaughter. A mysterious woman joins the housekeeping staff and supernatural phenomena begin to occur. 2020’s La Llorona is impressive in the way it reimagines familiar material and then uses it in a meaningful way. It would be quite easy to fashion the La Llorona folktale into a haunted house movie; that’s precisely what the 2019 Conjuring spinoff did. This movie is much better. Haunted house pictures are usually about evil descending upon an innocent family. In La Llorona, evil is already inside the family in the form of an apparently nonthreatening grandfather who is a war criminal. The women of the house must gradually come to terms with who this man is and the La Llorona mythos is worked into the movie in a way that gives it a whole different meaning while remaining salient to the roots of the folktale. The filmmakers use sound exceptionally well. The family takes shelter inside of their home while protesters chant and demonstrate outside. The protests are ever present in the soundtrack, constantly reminding us what the general did. The film also has a creepy atmosphere but not in a cliché spook house way. The filmmakers make reference to real life tragedy but do so in a way that is haunting but tasteful and even allows for some genuine reckoning with the legacy of war crimes.
What Doesn’t: La Llorona is not a traditional haunted house movie. It isn’t about jump scares or exorcisms. This is a more cerebral picture. That’s in its favor but La Llorona may not play for the Conjuring crowd. It’s slowly but deliberately paced and doesn’t have the shrieking scares common to contemporary haunted house movies. Viewers may get more out of La Llorona if they have at least a perfunctory understanding of what happened in Guatemala in the 1980s. It’s not required—there’s enough context clues to get the viewer caught up—but that understanding deepens the meanings of the film.
DVD extras: Currently available on the Shudder streaming service.
Bottom Line: La Llorona is an exceptional horror film. Although it involves the supernatural, the true evil in this story is very real and the filmmakers refashion an old folktale into something smart and contemporary.
Episode: #820 (October 4, 2020)