La Llorona Movie Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Premiered on Shudder
Directed by Jayro Bustamante
Written by Jayro Bustamante and Lisandro Sanchez
2019, 95 minutes, Not Rated
Premiered on Shudder on August 6th, 2020
Maria Mercedes Coroy as Alma
Sabrina De La Hoz as Natalia
Julio Diaz as Enrique
Let me preface for those of you who don’t know me by saying when it comes to horror and crime films, I prefer foreign productions far above domestic ones across the board most of the time. That’s true of most genres, but none more so than those two. And there are a multitude of reasons for that, several of which I have the opportunity to share with you right here while I lay out my thoughts on La Llorona, the 2019 Guatemalan horror film directed by Jayro Bustamante, a new-to-me director who I will be watching with an eagle eye from now on. He and co-writer Lisandro Sanchez have created a haunting, disturbing take on an ages-old legend, modernizing it and using it as a social commentary on oppression and racism in our societies.
To get downright formal with you, I really dig this movie. You go into it expecting a whole bunch of things that don’t happen and come out of it with a remarkable sense of satisfaction that none of those things happened. The soundtrack and brooding light effects lead you to anticipate shocks and jump scares, bearing the trademark atmosphere we tend to associate with films like Ringu, Satan’s Slaves, and Juon. But it dispenses with those traditional horror theatrics entirely, choosing instead to be a brilliant story about a family beset by its own sins.
The patriarch, Enrique, is a disgraced Guatemalan general convicted of atrocious crimes against humanity but allowed to walk on a technicality. His home, and his family within, is besieged by hordes of protestors, and his nights are tormented by sounds and illusions that may or may not be in his mind. Julio Diaz completely owns this role, so utterly convincing as a paranoid narcissist/victimizer-as-victim, unlikeable but not so much hateful as pathetic. And two, this fucker is really trigger happy. You don’t want to startle this guy in a dark room. Not even if you’re a family member. Maybe especially not if you’re a family member.
And he’s not the only one who brings in a superb performance in this work. Maria Mercedes Coroy is haunting as the enigmatic Alma, the new staff member who shows up in the middle of everything. Her and Sabrina De La Hoz, who plays Enrique’s granddaughter Natalia, both bring in stellar performances, playing off of each other naturally and convincingly, as Natalia is more trusting of Alma than the rest of the household. And vice versa, which seems to indicate in some way the younger girl’s innocence by virtue of her youth. Coroy brings peculiar charisma to her role, seeming to exude the atmospheric darkness that accompanies the majority of her scenes and follows the thread of her story as if it were the fabric.
At first, it’s easy to feel sorry for the family in this scenario. On the surface, they seem to be as much the victims as any of the other people he’s harmed, now being subjected to what seems like a descent into madness on Enrique’s part. But the deeper you go in the tale, the more you begin to realize the family themselves are at least peripherally guilty, having turned a blind eye to the acts of atrocity committed by the general. In fact, benefiting from the fruits of his inhumane labors. Maybe the torment they’re experiencing isn’t so undeserved after all. Prejudice, classism, and oppression are far more complicated than they appear on the surface and it’s virtually impossible to point in any single direction when assigning blame.
Rare as it is for me to not find a lot to nitpick, this film doesn’t provide a lot to complain about in counterbalance to what it has to love. The biggest flaw, a bothersome one at worst, being the director tends to allow pauses to persist long past their gestation periods. Which is to say, there are some pregnant pauses in here that last significantly beyond their due dates for the little that they deliver. They could probably cut twenty minutes off this film and make it slightly better, but the creation as a whole is superb and that minor offense does very little to affect my esteem for it.
You’ll be hearing me talk a lot more about foreign films here in the future, but in the meantime, take my word for it, this is a fine example of what makes me love them over domestic in most cases. Their creators are confident and have high levels of faith in their own ideas and abilities, and they and their producers bring a willingness to embrace the unusual that is severely lacking in the Hollywood paradigm these days. This is a gutsy, scathing commentary on modern society while at the same time living right on the verge of being what Tinseltown likes to call “elevated” horror and a film you definitely want on your Shudder watch list. It’s another grand slam success for the streaming service and a must-watch for horror fans.
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