You know, you get this AMC Stubs membership and you only have to find two shows a month to break even. The challenge, of course, is finding two shows. (Fortunately our real-Chinatown theater is an AMC so if we head out there, it’s good for one to three flicks a trip.) But The Boy and I love us some horror and it doesn’t have to be that good, even, as long as it does something good. A lot of horror movies manage a good atmosphere, for example, and some manage some decent suspense, while a few turn out some good funhouse horror effects. But I just told The Boy I was going and he said, “OK.” and hopped on board.
We sort of turned and looked at each other in surprise when we realized this was part of the, uh, Conjureverse? The Warren Cinematic Universe? It’s a movie that refers tangentially to the Warrens, who are the central hubs of the Conjuring movies, Annabelle movies and a few oddballs like this one, I guess. In fact, before they were referenced, I was thinking to myself, “Holy crap, they’ve cribbed a lot of tricks from the Insidious/Conjuring guys…” But good tricks are good tricks, while they last, and this movie has a few.
The story is a basic, classic ghost story type where a woman (the titular La Llorona) murders her own children to get back at her philandering husband, but ends up paying the price in grief, and haunting the earthly plane for surrogates for the children she drowned—so she can then drown those, I guess.
Looks, if ghosts were rational, they’d, y’know, just haunt journalists and get them to write their stories. Or, I don’t know, these days they could blog. Whatever. Going around rattling chains and murdering children doesn’t get you the sympathy you’d hope for, if you were a ghost.
This movie takes place in the ’70s—I don’t think the Conjureverse extends much later—when a well-meaning, widowed social worker (Linda Cardellini) ends up getting troubled mom (Patricia Velasquez, the hot-but-evil princess in the 1999 The Mummy) hauled in to one of Los Angeles finest family facilities, where she is unable to protect her children from La Llorona. Because, La Llorona, am I right? What is that, even? When they’re killed she sics the vengeful spirit on the widow and Bob’s Your Uncle. And La Llorona’s your revenant.
It’s…okay. The lack of logic anywhere defuses most of the tension. You know, pretty solidly and basically right away, that the ghost’s destructive antics are going to stop right where the plot needs them to, as there are no limits to its spectral powers that are ascertainable. It’s got a pretty nice third act finish, however, as they bring in an exorcist ex-priest (the great Raymond Cruz, who was in that show you liked). This creates a little structure that the movie sorely needs, and facilitates a genuinely solid third act twist.
Some of my enjoyment of this movie was tempered by me thinking, “Man, Ellen Page looks old. I mean, she looks good and she’s doing a great job acting, but…” Well, of course, finding out it was actually Linda Cardellini made all the difference there. But it does kind of tell you I wasn’t super-engaged.
I mean, it’s the sort of mainline horror you expect these days: Well produced and acted but lacking in a lot of the more visceral scares that make horror movies legendary, or even memorable.