The Curse of the Weeping Woman (a.k.a. The Curse of La Llorona in the US) is the first feature from director Michael Chaves, and is the sixth entry in the Conjuring Universe.
James Wan’s The Conjuring was a surprisingly decent horror movie that cropped up back in 2013 to deliver some solid scares and genuine creeps, before descending into a bit of a stock monster runaround. It had some nicely effective sequences early on, and if not quite up to the hype it received, was nevertheless pretty good value for a mainstream MA15 horror flick. And lo, it spawned the inevitable sequel and several spinoffs (the Annabelle movies and The Nun, for those of you keeping track).
Which brings us to The Curse of the Weeping Woman. Set in 1970s Los Angeles, recently widowed Anna (Linda Cardellini) is trying to balance the pressures of raising her two children with the responsibilities of her job as a social worker. When a case she is working on ends in tragedy, Anna encounters the legend of La Llorona, a weeping ghost of Mexican folklore who kills children. La Llorona is a spectral apparition capable of interacting with the living world in a number of rather nasty ways. Naturally, the spook becomes attached to the kids and Anna must enlist the help of rogue ex-priest Rafael (Raymond Cruz) to stop the ghostly weeping woman.
It’s not that there’s anything specifically wrong with The Curse of the Weeping Woman, per se, and there’s nothing here to actively dislike. It’s just that it’s overall too pedestrian to make any lasting impact. Most of the scares come associated with loud noises and most of the tension is achieved by Joseph Bishara’s nervy score. The trouble being, of course, that the music and sound design should complement scares and tension – not be the source of it. However, the film does succeed on occasion as it manages to wring a couple of neat chills from the creepy design of La Llorona herself, and there’s a nice sequence in the back seat of the family car as Chris and Samantha try to fend off the sobbing spectre outside.
Otherwise you’ll know what to expect if you are a fan of The Conjuring movies (and even if you’re not) as events unfold as predicted, with washed out, colour-treated cinematography that makes everything look a lot darker than it really is – case in point, the dingy interiors on a sunny day, or the bright hallway at the beginning that’s lit to be green and dingy.
On the positive end, the performances are certainly The Curse of the Weeping Woman’s strongest aspect and Linda Cardellini is its ace. Cardellini is a very underrated actor and watchable screen presence and The Curse of the Weeping Woman finally gives her the opportunity to carry a film, which is great to see. She is excellent as Anna, finding herself flung into the centre of a spicy supernatural experience she would do anything to save her children from.
Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen and Roman Christou are also good as the kids. While Tony Amendola does well as Father Perez, providing the link to the Conjuring Universe via Annabelle, and causing considerable early confusion due to his uncanny resemblance to F. Murray Abraham.
Finally, Raymond Cruz turns in a strange performance as ex-priest Rafael, but somehow this quiet oddness works, as he potters about the house collecting ectoplasm and performing strange rituals with which to combat La Llorona.
What turns out to be quite a large problem for The Curse of the Weeping Woman, and possibly its ultimate undoing, is the general lack of rules in regard to La Llorona and her abilities. At times she is able to appear, almost immediately, from seemingly any direction, while at others she is confined by the rooms and doors of the house. Sometimes her touch results in terrible burns and painful blisters, while other times, such as during a sequence in the bathroom, her touch has no effect. Without knowing how she works, all attempts to thwart her, and her resistance to them, feel a bit undercooked.
The Curse of the Weeping Woman is not a terrible film by any measure, but it is rather a predictable one. It might hit home a bit better with fans of The Conjuring and those who like their horror on the milder side. But with horror suddenly finding itself to be a more broadly acceptable genre, courtesy of several, recent critically-acclaimed terrors, the resurgence of Fangoria magazine and the growing popularity of Shudder, there’s more reason than ever to want the quality filter be set a little higher. The Curse of the Weeping Woman is a serviceable multiplex horror that’ll do for idle entertainment, but doesn’t really bring a lot to the Conjuring Universe, much less to the genre as a whole.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★☆☆☆
‘The Curse of the Weeping Woman’ hits Australian cinemas on April 18 and hits the US on April 19.