Linda Cardellini’s amazingly all-over-the-place two-decade acting career (check out her résumé on IMDB.com) makes a smooth move into the horror genre with this entry that’s being touted as a part of the “Conjuring Universe.” Which translates into it being a movie made under the guidance of James Wan, who’s producing, not directing here.

Cardellini’s performance is a good one, as Anna, a social worker and loving single mom, whose own universe is turned upside down when an evil spirit - La Llorona or “the weeping woman” - makes her way from 1673 Mexico to 1973 California and attempts to take away Anna’s two young kids. Or maybe she tries to kill them (drowning is her usual modus operandi). Or maybe just burn their arms with her tears.

Cardellini’s good performance is surrounded by other good ones, but the story never comes together enough to make much sense. An opening scene in 1673 attempts to set up what’s happening 300 years later, but the script takes too much time getting around to a proper explanation.

But this sort of horror film isn’t really about the acting or even the stories behind the stories. It’s about shocks and jumps scares, and how much popcorn will be spilled when viewers involuntarily leave their seats for a few seconds. It’s about low-lit rooms and lots of creaking and banging and doors slamming and people being grabbed and sometimes burned.

The main plot, the one set in 1973, involves Anna, working with families who are having problems, and trying her best to help out sad, frightened Patricia (Patricia Velasquez) who, in short order, loses her two young boys via circumstances that harken back to that long-ago opening scene. An accusation from, Patricia directed at Anna that her sons’ deaths are Anna’s fault, followed by a distressing claim of “I tried to stop La LLorona” adds some intrigue to what’s going on, but then the film simply turns to the happy life that Anna and her young kids Chris and Samantha (Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) have at home.

Well, it’s happy until Chris has an “incident” during which he hears soft sobs, sees an apparition, and ends up with burns on his arms when said apparition grabs him.

Soon there’s a well-intentioned priest telling Anna about the legend of the weeping woman and the resulting modern-day curse attached to her. Soon little Samantha has arm burns that match her brother’s. Soon after that, Anna and her kids hole up in their home, but to say that they’re not safe there would be a huge understatement.


You know, maybe that priest can do something about these attacks on the kids. Nope, sorry, it’ll take weeks for the church to process the paperwork. Maybe, he tells Anna, you should call on Rafael (Raymond Cruz), a former priest who’s gone rogue and has unorthodox methods for dealing with curses. The good news about him is that he makes house calls and he brings along his own raw eggs to detect evil.

Though first-time feature director Michael Chavez makes effective use of scenes with no music, with just ambient sounds that help build up the tension, he often lets those scenes go on too long. He also unwisely includes the overused cliché of the little girl stupidly putting herself in danger and even tosses in an absurd bit of Catholic claptrap concerning the advantages of adding holy water to your swimming pool, as well as an exorcism taking place on a dark and stormy night.

But the final 15 minutes work quite well as a study of terror, thankfully the kind that has no explicit gore and is fun for an audience that likes to scream in unison. That last part also features some pretty cool visual effects and even a well-placed laugh. What’s this movie really about? It’s about how many gotchas will get ya.

Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

“The Curse of La Llorona”
Written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis; directed by Michael Chaves
With Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen
Rated R