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.