Producers: Cameron Larson and Trevor Seeley   Director: Patricia Harris Seeley   Screenplay: Jose Prendes    Cast: Autumn Reeser, Antonio Cupo, Zamia Fandiño, Edgar Wuotto, Angelica Lara, Nicolas Madrazo and Danny Trejo   Distributor: Saban Films

Grade: D-

The ghostly figure of La Llorona, the “Weeping Woman” said to kidnap children in retribution for her own lost ones, has gotten some cinematic mileage of late, most notably in 2019’s “The Curse of La Llorona,” a misguided spin-off in the “Conjuring” franchise that nonetheless made money because of its meager budget.  She fares even worse in this bargain-basement would-be horror thriller, which should be of interest only to those masochists intent on seeing everything Danny Trejo appears in.

The muddled script by Jose Prendes begins with a prologue in which two kids attempting to cross the border into the U.S. are abducted by the titular spirit (Zamia Fandiño), who comes at them from a burst of mysterious mist.  The focus then shifts to an American family, the Candlewoods—mom Carly (Autumn Reeser), dad Andrew (Antonio Cupo) and little son Danny (Nicolas Madrazo)—who are taking a trip to Mexico to help Carly overcome her grief over a recent miscarriage. 

Their taxi driver Jorge (Trejo) drops them off at the hostel run by Veronica (Angelica Lara), who’s surprised—and concerned—that the couple have brought Danny along.  The reason soon becomes clear, as the boy is attacked while wading in the nearby lake by what appears to be a malevolent bed sheet (only one of the many threadbare effects concocted by Jainhardhan Sathyan). 

His parents extricate him from the water, but his travails have just begun, because it appears that La Llorona has set her sights on him, much to the distress of Veronica, who keeps making the sign of the cross as a sign of her turmoil.  There’s also a threat to the whole family from Pedro (Edgar Wuotto), a surly drug runner who doesn’t appreciate the gringos intruding on his territory.

Luckily, every time danger rears its ugly head, Jorge appears miraculously to save the day, until the very end, when Carly and Andrew (who’s disappeared for a long stretch, captured by Pedro), must visit graveyards and ramshackle sheds to rescue Danny from the grasp of the apparition.  You might call him a Trejo ex machina.     

The plot Prendes has contrived is, quite frankly, a mess.  La Llorona makes her way into the house, although Veronica ad Jorge are perplexed by this, as she has never entered the place before.  She keeps abducting Danny in her patented mist, but somehow he manages to escape her and come ambling back to his mom.  Sometimes gunfire causes La Llorona to dissipate, sometimes not. 

Matters are supposedly explained, but actually made even murkier, by loads of flashback.  Most retell the origin of the legend of La Llorona, in which Maria (also played by Fandiño) fights with her heavily-mustached husband and sees her child die, but deal with Veronica and her little daughter, to whom she keeps a shrine in an upstairs room.  There are also repeated reminders that Carly is adopted, which point to a revelation at the close that aims for surprise but falls short.

Seeley does things no favors with her lackadaisical direction, which seems to be based on a one-take principle: just shoot it and ignore any mistakes.  But given the amateurish acting, it’s doubtful that a Kubrickian schedule of retakes would have made much difference.  The cheapness of the picture is further evidenced in the Francisco Blanc’s production design and Terry Collier’s cinematography, while Rudolf Buitendach’s editing fails to give much coherence to the slapdash chases and Tim Wynn’s score adds little to the mix.

Perhaps one day La Llorona will get a screen treatment of consequence, but it seems that the quality trajectory is pointing downward.  In this case viewers will probably be weeping more than the title character—with laughter over the movie’s sheer ineptitude.