The Conjuring Universe has taken the world by storm, becoming one of the highest-grossing horror series’ of all-time. As a matter of fact, the only franchise with more bragging rights is the Godzilla series, and despite the upcoming crossover between the large-lizard and King Kong, with all the films Warner Bros. has in the pipeline (an inevitable sequel to The Nun, The Conjuring 3, and, maybe even, a Crooked Man spin-off), the series will likely overtake the kaiju franchise sooner rather than later. As of 2018, The Conjuring Universe appears to be better than ever, with The Conjuring 2 out-grossing The Conjuring (and receiving solid reviews), Annabelle Creation out-grossing Annabelle (and receiving far better reviews), and The Nun becoming the series’ most financial successful film yet (despite a mixed reception). There appears to be nothing on the horizon that can derail this juggernaut.
As 2019 arrives, so does The Curse of Llorona. The film acts as the sixth installment in the franchise, however, you’d be forgiven if this film fell completely under your radar. Actually, you’d be forgiven if you had no idea it was a Conjuring film at all. Warner Bros. certainly seemed to have cold feet about the film, dubbing it as a film “from the producers of The Conjuring universe” and not actually billing it as an official installment. They could have done this for a number of different reasons. Maybe they were afraid releasing two sequels in the same year (this and Annabelle Comes Home) would evoke franchise fatigue, and they decided to go all in on their safest bet instead. They could have chose to do it for whatever reason, the result was the same – The Curse of Llorona became the proverbial black sheep of the series. The red-headed step-child, if you will.
The film did well enough at the box office, crossing 100 million from a production budget estimated as being shy of 10 million. Even if it barely made one-third of The Nun’s breakout run, it’d be unfair to call The Curse of La Llorona a failure or even a disappointment. Unlike The Nun, which spun itself off from The Conjuring 2, or Annabelle, which did the same with The Conjuring, The Curse of Llorona didn’t have that, especially with how hush-hush Warner Bros. was about its connections to the greater series. Some people might argue it was to try and keep the surprise under-wraps, but the wedged in way Curse connects to the world is so underwhelming, inconsequential, and unnecessary, that it’s difficult to find an upside to its inclusion.
The Curse of La Llorona is significant to the series in one respect. The James Wan produced film, written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis,is directed by Michael Chaves in his directorial debut. Michael Chaves has since been chosen as James Wan’s replacement to direct The Conjuring 3, meaning this film is the closest thing we have to a sampling of what we might expect from the series’ next main-entry.
The story focuses on a caseworker named Anna Tate-Garcia as she investigates the disappearance of her client’s children. When she checks in on the woman, she soon discovers they have been locked behind a door, kept prisoner by their mother who has, seemingly, lost her mind. In her efforts to protect them, the children soon find themselves tormented by La Llorona (based on the famous Mexican folklore), then, eventually killed. Worse yet, the Weeping Woman has moved onto a new target, finding prey in the form of Anna’s son and daughter. This leaves Anna to try and combat against the malevolent spirit in any way she can.
I can’t say I was very interested in this film on arrival. The interest I have in the franchise can best be described as a fleeting one, so often feeling as though it isn’t rewarded by ample subject-matter to sink my teeth into. This is something I feel applies very well to The Curse of Llorona in how workman and dull it comes across.
The characters are one-dimensional archetypes and, because of that, there isn’t anything beyond the superficial, surface-level intrigue such a concept can receive. The Weeping Woman might strike you as familiar without having heard of her, and that’s because similar stories have been told prior, many might even have taken Llorona as an influence to their concept. It isn’t to say that a concept surrounding the character couldn’t have worked, but that it’s execution in the film brings nothing we haven’t already seen.
Familiarity plagues this film. Not only have we seen a mysterious ghost woman spook up on, torment, and murder people in many horror films of yesteryear, but we’d seen it only film ago with The Conjuring Universe’s The Nun. In a lot of ways, too, this film has a lot of trouble differentiating itself from its series predecessor. The unfortunate truth is – every time Llorona appears on the screen, I can escape the feeling I’m watching a second-rate knockoff of that film. You know the type, a movie in the Bargain Bin section at Wal-Mart your Mom buys because she thought Asylum’s Adventures of Aladdin was the Will Smith movie. The film merely doesn’t bring anything to the table worth talking about. This is unfortunate when you consider The Nun was only a barely-above average film in the horror genre and suffered from a lot of the humdrum, through-the-motion problems plaguing this film.
One of the biggest plights I have with many of these films in the supernatural genre involves how transparent (‘cause they’re ghosts? No.) and/or inconsequential the conflict can often feel. The combatants involved feel as though they’re concocting made-up defenses and playing by a set of rules inconsistent or other-wise unbeknownst to the viewer. They’re saved because the priest conceals the house in a circle of magic-dirt? And, of course, in typical horror fashion, that magic circle of dirt will be disrupted in some entirely plot-friendly way. Oh, they’re saved because the priest turned the pool into holy water? They’ve got it all figured out, don’t they?
As a devout horror fan, I’m oftentimes able to overlook a lot of things in the horror genre. I can overlook cheesy characters, convenient plot-devices, and even the arbitrary way protagonists sometimes spout off a “cool last line” in a slasher movie. This film may have basic functions and competency and that may even spread over to its involved cast, but it’s also a boring film. I think I might even go as far as to say I disliked this film more than Annabelle because of that fact. This film had nothing that captured my attention and, similar to how Warner Bros. has treated it in the Conjuring series, I, too, am ready to pretend it doesn’t exist.