in Criterion Month, Review

La Llorona (2019)

Society is in a weird place with streaming. Just look at the strikes in Hollywood going on right now. Writers and Actors used to get residuals when movies and shows were re-aired on TV or re-released on DVD and basic cable. Now everything is fucked. Movies or shows can just disappear like that and we’re all the worst for it.

What I appreciate about the Criterion Collection is their goal of preservation. I can’t vouch for their policy towards residuals. For all I know, that policy varies from film-to-film. Regardless, it’s clear there’s a passion to protect art. Take today’s film, Jaro Bustamante’s 2019 Guatemalan Horror film La Llorona.

La Llorona was released in America as a Shudder Exclusive. Which means until now it had no physical release. “Why would I buy it when I can stream it on Shudder?” You might ask. Well, what if Shudder is acquired by another company in the future? Worse yet, what if Shudder ceases to exist five or ten years from now? What would happen to this film? No need to weep now.

The film is based on the Latin American folktale of “La Llorona” or the “Weeping Woman.” If you’re not familiar, “La Llorona” was a woman who drowned her children after discovering her husband was cheating on her and in turn became a vengeful ghost, who roamed bodies of water, weeping for her children. This film’s inclusion of the myth is genius.

La Llorona isn’t about the myth as much as it uses the myth to underscore a story about another kind of evil. This film is about a former Guatemalan dictator, Enrique Monteverde (Julio Díaz)–based on actual Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt–in seemingly his final days. Monteverde lives secluded in his mansion receiving constant medical care while simultaneously being tried for the genocide of native Mayans back in the 1980s. The verdict is overturned but Monteverde’s troubles don’t end there. His home becomes the constant target of protestors and… an entity of the supernatural variety.

The story is mostly told through the eyes of a recently hired maid, Alma (María Mercedes Coroy–Namor’s mother in Black Panther 2), as we witness supernatural occurrences involving water around the house, like running faucets and a presence around the mansion pool. The protests intensify and Monteverde and his family become trapped in their home with the vengeful La Llorona. Spookiness ensues.

The film moves at a gradual pace. Jump scares are scarce but terror is still in full effect. La Llorona is a mood piece more than anything. Spooky vibes. This give us more time to hate Monteverde and his family and sympathize with Alma and the rest of the maid staff. I also like the self-contained presentation. Rarely do we leave the house (except for the courtroom) and isolation is palpable.

La Llorona does what a lot of my favorite ghost stories do. Where it’s not so much about the ghost, rather what it represents. What are ghosts but reminders the past? In this case, past misdeeds. We need more horror films where bad people are punished. In a way, this film represents the punishment that real dictator, Efraín Ríos Montt, never received. I can think of a few more political leaders that are due for a good haunting. Maybe sooner than later? Anyways, I’ll see you later (next July) for another Criterion Month. Boo.