The Curse of La Llorona takes place in the Conjuring universe, though you'd hardly know that based on the marketing for the latest addition to James Wan's hit franchise. Perhaps that's intentional; it's possible that Warner Bros. and New Line hoped to distance this dud from the rest of the series, despite the inclusion of Father Perez (Tony Amendola), whose previous role in Annabelle is referenced in an exceptionally cheesy flashback. Directed by Michael Chaves in his feature debut, The Curse of La Llorona borrows its name and mythology from Latin folklore: A beautiful woman discovers her husband is having an affair with a younger mistress. In a fit of revenge, she drowns their two sons in the river and, overcome with guilt, she throws herself into the water to join them. She now exists between the land of the living and the dead, pacing near bodies of water late at night, looking for children to take her sons' place. If you hear her cries, she'll come for you. That bit of folklore is far more interesting than the film it inspired, which is set in the 1970s and stars Linda Cardellini as a social worker and widowed mother whose sons have become La Llorona's latest target.
The film begins as Cardellini's Anna visits the home of a woman named Patricia for a welfare check, only to find that the troubled single mom has locked her two sons in a closet to protect them from some unseen evil force. After Patricia's sons are found dead in a nearby river, mysterious, spooky things begin happening around Anna's home; her own children – a daughter and a son – are being stalked by a woman in white, and it's not long before the ghost begins to torment Anna, too. Based on a screenplay by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, The Curse of La Llorona clumsily attempts to establish the eponymous ghost as a metaphor for child abuse. La Llorona might be a symbol for the darker side of a burdened mother's personality, her fractured psyche pushed to its breaking point. But this idea is half-baked at best and somewhat irresponsible at worst, particularly coming from a pair of white screenwriters, whose exploration of Latin folklore has been made more accessible for white mainstream audiences. Cardellini's Anna is, of course, a white woman, but her husband – a police officer who died in the line of duty – was Hispanic. Though the supporting cast is populated with Hispanic and black actors, there's no ignoring the fact that The Curse of La Llorona has been packaged for white viewers.
That said, Chaves makes the respectable decision not to include subtitles for at least half of the spanish language spoken in the film, including La Llorona's lines and some of the more casual dialogue. La Llorona herself is not that scary; she looks like the eponymous ghost from The Nun (a far superior Conjuring spinoff) in bridal garb. Much of the film is tediously predictable, including the jump scares – of which there are many. Not only are these obviously telegraphed, but one can easily predict the exact nature of the impending scare, be it a face abruptly appearing in a window or a character being violently thrown across the room. We've seen all of this before, and we've seen it executed so much better than this. Not even Cardellini's well-established acting chops can save La Llorona from its tedium, relegated as she is to a role that even Judy Greer would find lacking.
The only thing that keeps this movie interesting is Raymond Cruz (Breaking Bad's Tuco), who plays a curandero (a traditional native healer) named Rafael Olvera enlisted by Anna to vanquish the vengeful spirit. Cruz and Cardellini have solid chemistry, and the former's deadpan line delivery makes for a couple of humorous moments in an otherwise dull film. Unfortunately, it's not enough to make The Curse of La Llorona feel like anything more than a direct-to-video spinoff. That's particularly disappointing given that Chaves is attached to direct The Conjuring 3 next, and based on his work with the spinoff, it seems this cinematic universe may be on its last legs.