Remember when we said there was nothing scarier than a creepy nun? Consider ourselves corrected. Because after watching the trailer for The Curse of La Llorona, every whisper of a story about that Mexican folk tale came rushing back to scare the hell out of us. Produced by James Wan (of The Conjuring fame) and directed by Portuguese-American Michael Chaves, this spooky horror film is the latest to try and leverage folk myths for jump scares. And considering the Demián Bichir-starring The Nun had Latinx moviegoers propelling it to great box office numbers, it’s no surprise Wan and his team ventured south of the border for inspiration.
Known and feared by many in Mexico, la Llorona is “the weeping woman,” a ghost whose children drowned and who wanders aimlessly crying out for them. Not only is she terrifying but she often causes havoc to those who hear her wails. In this latest Hollywood version, we’re in foggy 1970s Los Angeles. Social worker Anna García (played by Linda Cardellini) doesn’t heed the warning of a mother suspected of child endangerment. Instead García and her two kids end up having to fend off La Llorona as if she were an unwelcome spirit. From the looks of the eerie first trailer, Wan and Chaves have taken a page out of Annabelle and The Nun and made the infamous weeping woman the kind of specter who clicks into place and jumps out of nowhere from the shadows. In the trailer, we see her haunting Anna’s boy and girl while they wait in the car at night and realize a spirit is all too eager to get in.
While character descriptions are scarce (and the teaser merely sketches out the basics) the film looks like a prime example of a Hollywood take on a regionally specific tale with little creative input from those who would know La Llorona best. Not that that should be surprising. Tobias Iaconis, one of its co-writers, is best known for having written the WWE-produced film Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia. Just so you know, the movie’s plot literally hinges on that South American country being a chaotic mess that will only be contained by a brave US SEAL Team.
As with other horror films that hope to accurately portray other cultures, The Curse of La Llorona employed cultural consultants but one wishes the creative team had made casting choices that hewed closer to the myth they are portraying. Jury is still out on whether Cardellini’s Anna García, who struggles to say “La Llorona” without an American accent, is supposed to be Latina. (Or, like Cardellini herself, maybe her partner is Latino and the last name was acquired by marriage?) Either way the optics of a white actress being at the center of a movie about a Mexican legend is, let’s put it mildly, problematic. Moreover, and as Twitter users were quick to ask: where are, then, all the Mexicans?
Neither of the two other main female roles, the mother who warns Anna (Venezuelan actress Patricia Velásquez) and the weeping woman herself (Panamanian actress Marisol Ramirez), went to Mexican or Mexican-American actresses. It’s a sign, perhaps, that in Hollywood’s eyes, even when casting Latinas, regional specificity is often not even part of the question. And then you see that a character called Father Perez, who we’d met in Annabelle. Only, he is portrayed by Tony Amendola, who despite starring in such movies as The Mask of Zorro and Blow with similarly Hispanic-sounding names, is of Italian descent. On the bright side, there is some representation of Mexican talent in the cast. Though you only get a glimpse of him in the trailer, Mexican-American actor Raymond Cruz takes on the role of a “disillusioned priest” who helps Anna Garcia in her attempt to steer clear of La Llorona.
This is all to say that we are wary at best about this attempt to turn La Llorona into yet another nondescript Hollywood horror film ghost. We’ll only know how it turns out by watching the entire film which doesn’t hit theaters until 2019. In the meantime, we’d rather revisit 1961’s La maldición de la llorona, or a more recent take on the character like 2006’s km 31 or, heck, even the animated family-friendly version La leyenda de la Llorona. They all, at least, promise us authentic scares based on an iconic character who’s terrified us for generations.
The Curse of la Llorona opens in theaters on April 19, 2019.