The Conjuring Universe lives in “The Curse of La Llorona”
Updated: Aug 21, 2019
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
“THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; R for violence and terror; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “Behind the Curse,” a making-of
SHE IS known as The Woman in White, the Wailing or Weeping Woman, La Llorona … the creature that steals children from their homes and kills them.
She has other names, but the background story remains the same. In life, a beautiful woman’s husband betrays her for another. Mad with pain and anger, she drowns their children in revenge. When she discovers what she’s done, she kills herself – but hell will not have her. La Llorona is cursed to walk the earth, where she weeps and looks for children to replace the ones she lost.
Think of her as a female bogeyman – an incentive for children to be good. Raymond Cruz ("Breaking Bad") plays curandero Rafael Olvera, a healer who uses holistic and folk remedies. I’ve heard about her just from my own family, growing up. Everybody who’s Latin knows about La Llorona,” he says in the presentation from Warner Brothers. Tony Amendola, who plays Father Perez, confirms. “It’s a very old story. Some people think it goes all the way back to [Spanish Conquistador] Cortés.”
Once horror fans recognize Padre Perez, we know we’re in The Conjuring Universe. Amendola is especially pleased that filmmakers took the trouble to locate the rosary his character used in “Annabelle” (2014). “To have this made me feel like Padre Perez again. I appreciated the fact that they searched for it and found it,” he says. That’s the kind of detail fans expect from Malaysian
producer/writer/director James Wan.
“I’ve been a fan of James Wan for years, and to be able to work with him and collaborate with him was incredible … On set, he brings incredible energy.” — Michael Chaves, director
Anna must force her way in to see Patricia Alvarez's children, Carlos (Oliver Alexander) and Tomas (Aiden Lewandowski), after an abuse report. But neither Anna or police investigators can make sense of what they're told.
The film is set in Los Angeles, 1973. Social worker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini), a recent widow with two children, is working a difficult case. Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez), a troubled mother, claims she is protecting her two young sons, but something seems off. The boys show signs of abuse, but won’t talk. Anna has the children removed against Patricia’s frantic warnings and pleas.
The mother’s fears are valid; the boys are killed shortly afterward, while Patricia is locked up. Authorities can’t hold her since she was in custody at the time of death. Patricia blames Anna, who doesn’t know what to think. But soon the widow has problems of her own, when her children Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) encounter a ghostly woman and are left with the same signs of abuse. Ironically, Anna suddenly finds herself under investigation, and she goes to Padre Perez for help after seeing La Llorona herself. He confesses that past experiences have led him to believe in the supernatural, and sends her to former priest Rafael Olvera, who might be able to help.
And the battle is on!
“What really got to me from the script is that it was not only nicely written, but it was very respectful of the Hispanic side, in terms of what La Llorona is, her story. That impressed me because we’re so used to stories that are inspired on something, but in a way, are almost cliché.” — Patricia Velasquez
The boys are killed soon after the family is taken into custody. Patricia (Patricia Velasquez) blames Anna for her children's death, and places a curse on her.
The presence of La Llorona begins to appear before Chris and Sam.
“The Curse of La Llorona” is only available in Ultra 4K through digital streaming and that’s too bad, especially since it’s a separate purchase. The Warner Brothers Blu-ray package has a digital code, but it will only access the 1080p version. Those who prefer the 4K discs, with its extra fine detail and expansive HDR contrast and colors, are out of luck. Streaming cannot compare with the Ultra 4K disc sharpness, while in some rural or mountain areas, streaming isn’t even possible. Films in the Conjuring Universe remain popular, and bring in oodles of cash, so there’s no excuse to hold back on the disc. It’s a studio strategy to force viewers into streaming their content. They hope to eliminate disc manufacturing altogether.
Michael Burgess ("The Avengers" "The Nun"), who's been one of Hollywood's top camera operators, finally gets the Director of Photography chair using REDCode Raw 6K digital cameras. Unfortunately, the high-res files were downconverted to a 2K master. Still, the Dolby Vision and HDR10 toning are right in line with the intense highlights and deep-shadows, which dominate the final act.
We’re lucky the 1080p transfer looks so good, with surprisingly warm, rich color; great shadows, and good detail. Settings and props will look familiar to those who grew up in the ‘70s, but some of the personal details – such as the lack of long, bushy sideburns on male characters – are missing. That’s all to the good; we don’t miss ‘em. Fashion is also more restrained as well.
They found a great house in Los Angeles for the shoot. Production Designer Melanie Jones says, “It’s early 20th century, and I was drawn to it, partially for the period, because it felt kind of golden, with earthy tones … reminiscent of the early and mid ‘70s. It’s something that can feel very homey. And at the same time, it can get a little creepy, which is nice – squeaky doors, stuff like that.”
Anna finally turns to Father Perez (Tony Amendola) for help. He became a believer in the supernatural after experiences with the demon doll, Annabelle. He suggests Anna visit a curandero - a healer who uses prayer, and holistic and folk remedies.
La Llorona's story plays out in flashback. A beautiful woman becomes deranged after her husband is unfaithful. In an attempt to hurt him. she drowns their children. When she realizes what's she's done, she kills herself. Forced to wander the earth, she becomes the Weeping Woman, an evil water spirit, searching for children to replace her own.
“We were told by the owner that the house is haunted. I thought it was totally a joke, but so many people had so many odd occurrences in there. So, yeah.” — Michael Chaves, director
The film uses much less CGI than expected. “It’s a throwback to the old types of monster films, where they’d actually use a practical monster,” Cruz says. Marisol Ramirez, who plays La Llorona, and makeup artist Gage Munster (“The Nun,” “Annabelle Comes Home”) describe the process of turning her into the creature in “The Making of a Movie Monster.” A layer of silicon is used on her skin to make her look wet. “She’s a water spirit, so she’s not going to be dry all the time,” Munster says.
La Llorona’s distinctive wedding gown provides another layer to the creature.
“I looked at mostly traditional dresses. So her costume is actually kind of a Frankenstein creation of many different styles. There’s … an Escaramuza dress, her sleeves are inspired by that ... The entire silhouette is a China Poblana. And we looked at a lot of Frida Kahlo’s dresses. [The] yoke is directly inspired from one of the dresses Frida Kahlo wore.” — Megan Spatz, costume designer
Samantha is visited by La Llorona. Both of Anna's children get burn marks when the creature tries to grab them - just like Patricia's boys! Anna soon finds herself under investigation for abuse.
The Blu-ray disc offers a choice between Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 channel tracks. Both are terrific, with a clear, well-balanced delivery of dialogue, effects and score by Joseph Bishara, who has composed for other James Wan films, and for “Eli Roth’s History of Horror” fun and fascinating series.
Surround effects – hitting the ceiling with Atmos – are as good as any we’ve heard on “The Conjuring” films and its cousins – which means they're absolutely splendid.
Sadly, the Atmos track is not available in Ultra 4K streaming.
There’s serious information to be found in Warner Brother’s collection, but it’s delivered with a light touch. “The Myth of La Llorona” is short, but gets us in the mood for further revelations.
“Behind the Curse” is a very decent making-of, with interviews with the director, filmmakers, and actors. “The Making of a Movie Monster” demonstrates how La Llorona was designed and created from makeup to costuming. A “Storyboard” feature is very sketchy, but that’s no pun. Minimal line art is shown next to the scenes created from them. Apparently, you don’t have to be Hayao Miyazaki to draw them.
The movie is streamlined to a speedy 93 minutes, but I liked the six deleted scenes, which expand story and character content. Some could have been used instead of the shorter version. There’s also a good alternate finale. One item of note, we get to see better close-ups of Samantha’s rag doll, who bears a striking resemblance to that other Conjuring “toy.”
La Llorona has appeared as a character in several films and TV series dedicated to the paranormal such as Robert Rodriguez’s “From Dusk till Dawn” series, now playing on Netflix; on “Supernatural,” also on Netflix, and on “Grimm,” now on Amazon Prime.
“It’s not just a ghost story, it’s a tradition,” and a privilege to bring her to the screen, Michael Chaves says of his feature film debut.
But you can find out for yourself.
— Kay Reynolds
Anna meets with Patricia, hoping for a logical explanation for what's happening to her children.
La Llorona appears and tries to drown Samantha in the bathtub.
Anna confronts the creature to save her daughter, but it disappears.
Former priest and curandero Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz, "Breaking Bad"), tries to help Anna and her children, but La Llorona breaks through his defenses.