Wednesday, August 5, 2020

La Llorona Review: A Historical Horror Movie With Great Atmosphere

Release date: August 6, 2020
Running time: 97 minutes
Starring:  María Mercedes Coroy, Sabrina De La Hoz, Margarita Kenéfic, Julio Diaz

An aging paranoid dictator, protected by an witchcrafting wife, is dealing with the weight of the acts that brought him to power.  However, when the people he has ruled over begin to rise up, strange things begin happening in the compound that he is forced to live in.  And some of those seem to be the result of his past sins.  

La Llorona has an interesting setup, a dictator going through strange occurrences potentially due to his past misdeeds. The overall setup is relatively small, limited to the dictator, his immediate family, and some of their guards and employees.  A setting like this demands good performances, and the ones in La Llorona are up to the challenge.  The main family have a certain disconnected aspect to them, similar to something out of Wes Anderson but much less whimsical.  It shows that they have been living this privileged lifestyle for a while, divorced from the consequences of the patriarch.  Sabrina De La Hoz as Natalia is particularly interesting as she has a dual role as the daughter of the dictator, but also as a mother and the strong head of the family.  Her character is reserved but when she needs to let loose, she can.  And the film also has some fantastic scenes and lighting, especially during the night.  There are scenes that are framed and lit perfectly, drawing your attention to what is happening on screen or to what is just off screen.  

The legend of La Llorona is that she is a cursed soul forced to wander the world weeping for her drowned children.  Many young people grow up fearing that they will hear that sound, the director included.  With that context, it makes sense that the sound in the film would have received such care.  From the sounds of crying, to the sound of running water, to the constant drumbeat of the people of Guatemala, this movie has some great ambient sound that really helps to fill the scenes.  It is a constant reminder of what is going on off the camera.  And in the scenes when this sound suddenly cuts out, it makes you notice it all the more.  And one of the unique aspects of this movie in the horror context is that it is based on a significant, historical event: the violence committed during Guatemala's civil war.  The movie hopes to raise awareness of this and to start a dialogue about the violence that occurred, through the context of an updated adaptation of a well known horror legend.  The La Llorona in this film is different from the one you see in other horror movies, but that makes this one all the more interesting.  And the way that this movie ties the civil war and the legend of La Llorona is creative and fresh.  

Unfortunately for horror fans, this movie does not have a lot of what I would call traditional horror.  The film has a lot of great setup for the movie, but the horror aspects don't start until late in the film, and aren't as scary or grand as other movies in the genre.  However, the strong cast, fantastic cinematography and sound design, and the important historical context of this film make it one that should not be missed.

Watch it.

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