Tag Archives: D+

THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA

Producer: James Wan, Gary Dauberman and Emile Gladstone
Director: Michael Chaves
Writer: Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis
Stars: Linda Cardinelli, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez, Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Marisol Ramirez, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tony Amendola, Irene Keng, Oliver Alexander and Aiden Lewandowski
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema

D+

The so-called “Conjuring Universe” hits a new low (which, given its overall quality heretofore, is saying a lot) with Michael Chaves’ silly, borderline incoherent and largely fright-free take on the Mexican legend about a Medea-like bogeywoman doomed to stalk the earth waylaying children in search of the two sons she drowned in a rage over her husband’s infidelity. With only the most tenuous connection to the larger “Conjuring” world—an appearance by Tony Amendola as Father Perez from the first “Annabelle” movie—“The Curse of La Llorona” pretty must pretty much stand on its own—or more properly, fall.

After a brief prologue set in 1673 showing La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez) killing her two sweet boys, the script jumps ahead to 1973, apparently for no other reason than to allow for Father Perez’s involvement (“Annabelle” was set in the late sixties). Recently widowed Los Angeles social worker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardinelli) is tasked with visiting a client, Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velásquez), whose young sons Carlos (Oliver Alexander) and Tomas (Aiden Lewandowski) have been playing truant. She finds them locked away in a closet and Patricia frenziedly arguing that releasing them will put them in grave danger.

Of course Anna and the other authorities, including her late husband’s erstwhile partner Cooper (Sean Patrick Thomas), disagree, and take the boys into protective custody. Unfortunately, they are soon possessed by the hideously spectral La Llorona and drowned in the river. When Anna is called to the scene to investigate, her two children Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) and Chris (Roman Christou), whom she’s brought along in the back seat (no sitter apparently being available), are accosted by The Weeping Woman, whom the vengeful Patricia has asked to target them.

Thus begins the “exorcist” portion of the story, as Anna, on the recommendation of Father Perez, persuades Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), an ex-priest turned local shaman, to come to her home to protect her children from the fearsome spirit. What follows is what seems an endless series of jump scares as La Llorona indulges in assaults on the spunky kids, each accompanied by the obligatory burst of sound effects and a musical punch from composer Joseph Bishara.

There are apparently no real rules about what La Llorona can or cannot do—she shows up wherever and whenever she feels like it, though she can be warded off when it’s convenient for plot purposes (at one point by the simple expedient of rolling up a car window) and toward the close the house is supposedly rendered off limits by sprinkling seeds from a special tree across the threshold. That last prohibition sets the stage for probably the most egregiously stupid decision taken by one of the characters in the course of the movie, though there are so many—the kids, for instance, repeatedly fail to respond while Anna is creeping through the hallways calling their names—that by the time this sequence rolls around, dragged out in a vain attempt to generate some suspense, you’re more likely to be smirking or yawning to take much notice.

There are a few elements in “Curse” that deserve a smidgen of praise. Cruz manages a couple of spaced-out moments and bizarre line readings that earn a chuckle or two, and Christou shows promise as a kid forced to step up when things go very wrong. But Cardinelli and the rest of the cast can be praised only for gamely keeping straight faces as the absurdity mounts. The effects are okay by today’s standards, and Michael Burgess’s cinematography uses light and shade to create a spooky atmosphere, even if the constant employment of thunder and lightning for shocks and mood grows tiresome (and ridiculous, when the storm suddenly abates to allow for an outside scene). But Melanie Jones’s production design and Sandra Skora’s set decoration are drab, affording little sense of period beyond the placement of rotary phones near the center of many of the images, and Peter Gvozdas’ editing goes bonkers attempting to stir up some energy (even the rush-to-the-school-bus sequence at the start is pointlessly complicated).

Whether the curse associated with La Llorona falls more heavily on the filmmakers or the audience is an open question, but this movie about her is a pretty much a mess that certainly does not bode well for the continuing expansion of this cinematic universe.

SERENITY

Producer: Guy Heeley, Steven Knight and Greg Shapiro
Director: Steven Knight
Writer: Steven Knight
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Djimon Hounsou, Jason Clarke, Jeremy Strong, Rafael Sayegh, Garion Dowds, Robert Hobbs and Kenneth Fok
Studio: Avrion Pictures

D+

It’s a better than even bet that when the tormented protagonist of a story is the owner of a charter boat called Serenity, the name has some deep meaning in the writer’s mind. That’s certainly the case with Steven Knight’s film, which proves to be an extremely silly treatment of a very serious subject, and an irritating puzzle to boot.

Matthew McConaughey plays Baker Dill, a seen-better-days veteran living on Plymouth Island, eking out a living by taking vacationers out to catch sharks and tuna. His first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou) is concerned about what might be called his boss’ Captain Ahab complex—an obsession with catching a particularly large tuna he’s named Justice. Dill lives in a shack perched atop a cliff near a lighthouse, and everybody he interacts with—the bartender at the local watering hole, the owner of the bait-and-tackle shop, even Connie (Diane Lane), the woman he occasionally sleeps with and whose cat she’s always asking him to find—is kind of peculiar. In fact, there’s something a bit off about the whole place.

Dill’s curiously repetitive existence is suddenly made more frazzled by the appearance of some unexpected visitors. One is Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong), an oddball representative from an equipment company who offers him a free trial of a new fish-finding gizmo. The other is his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway), a slinky femme fatale who asks him to murder her new husband Frank (Jason Clarke), a rich brute who abuses not only her but Baker’s son Patrick (Rafael Sayegh), an introvert who spends all his time on the computer playing intricate video games. She’s persuaded Frank to go out on Dill’s boat to catch a trophy fish, and wants him not to come back from the trip.

It seems initially that “Serenity” is nothing more than a weirdly stylized tuna noir, but as it proceeds the movie grows increasingly strange, with Dill beginning to suspect that he might be in some waterlogged version of the Truman Show. Of course, it might just be that he’s going bonkers; certainly Duke and some of the other islanders think he needs a doctor. One doesn’t want to spoil the movie for anybody intrigued by its premise and wanting to unpack its mysteries by revealing its secrets, but perhaps a hint is permissible. Do you remember the old NBC series “St. Elsewhere”? Do you recall its controversial ending? Knight apparently does, and when you get into the last act of his film and realize where it’s headed, you might just want to be elsewhere, too.

Anyway, those who choose to venture out on Knight’s voyage can expect some pleasures. The visuals are nice, with the location nicely captured in Jess Hall’s widescreen cinematography. And Benjamin Wallfisch’s score has some impressive moments. You also have to admire the effort Laura Jennings’ editing exerts to be honest about what’s happening through quick montages, even if their surrealistic blur can be annoying.

There’s far less to appreciate in the acting. McConaughey certainly invests Dill with lots of intensity, but much of what he does has a histrionic vacuity to it; it comes across as effortful pose. Hathaway slinks about in her revealing dresses and trenchcoat, but instead of steaminess what results is more mannequin than actress; and Clarke’s personification of sheer nastiness has no shading whatever. Neither does Strong’s bureaucratic nerd, a part that once might have been written especially for Anthony Perkins.

And yet the fault doesn’t really lie with the actors; it rests in Knight’s conception of the characters they are playing—all pawns in what turns out to be an elaborate charade, the explanation for which will probably infuriate most viewers.

Of course, there are some people who enjoy McConaughey’s Lincoln commercials, so there may be a few who will take to “Serenity,” too.