Movie Review: Finally, a “La Llorona” with something to cry about

Damn, I’d like to have seen this one with an audience, in a re-opened cinema.

Yes, the only reason to interview filmmaker Jayro Bustamente would be to ask “Why on Earth did you give your movie the exact same title as a dozen other horror films about ‘the weeping woman?'”

Yes, his “La Llorona” takes a long time to deliver a fright, deliver on the dread he puts so much effort into building.

But the Guatemalan Bustamente (“Ixcanul”) has brought us the rare horror film that is actually about something. And it’d be interesting to see how the chill he spends too  much time establishing pays off, if there’s any jolt to the horror of a reckoning, the revenge of the woman who weeps.

This “La Llorona” is heard more than seen, the moans and tears a paranoid old dictator (Julio Diaz) hears in his fortress of a house. He and his family are under siege. A trial for the genocide committed in his name, massacring the Mayan-Ixil people of the provinces during a 1980s civil war, has denied him the justice he deserves.

And here in this bubble, his affluent family is whining at the noisy mob of protestors that surround the place.

“Why won’t they leave us alone?”

His wife, Doña Carmen (Margarita Kenéfic) knows more than she’s telling her doctor/daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz). We’ve seen the imperious Carmen leading a strange seance-like ceremony with the women of the family in the opening scene, a chanted prayer for deliverance by…could it be, Satan?

As to the mass murders and rape brought up in the trial, “even generals are men,” she huffs. She calls the grieving widows testifying in court “prostitutes” and berates Natalia (in Spanish and Kaqchikel, with English subtitles), “Don’t tell me you believe those…communists!”

As the general hears the crying, inside his house at night, as he stumbles into running faucets, he arms himself and takes potshots at “the guerillas” who have broken in.

“Did someone hear a woman cry?”

Nobody did. But the faucets turning on? Even the staff sees that once the exotic Alma (María Mercedes Coroy) shows up to replace those native maids and cooks who flee the “evil” that they assume is coming, but which we know is already here.

This General Montverde is a guilty as sin. The monster is in the house, waiting for Judgement Day.

It is daughter Natalia who is the first to awaken to her father’s guilt. She has a teenage daughter of her own, trapped under this roof, with that mob outside and this “presence” in it. Head housekeeper Valeriana (María Telón) may an ancient solution to their problem.

“Grab all the candles you can, and bring me sugar!”

But it’s not a corpse in a tattered bridal dress that they all have to fear. It is the general’s demented gun-slinging, firing at shadows where he hears crying. It is the noisy vigil or people surrounding the house, bearing witness for “the disappeared.”

This is horror that works on the head, not on the nerves, and as such lacks much in the way of hair-raising moments or frights. And those are sorely missed in the third act, when the nightmares have spread to those who share the guilt, when general’s butcher bill comes due.

The performances are subdued, not really pitched to match the rising horror facing them all.

Still, you have to hand it to Bustamente. He’s made a “La Llorona” movie with pointed politics, real world villains and righteous wrath. Sometimes, the horrors are in the headlines, or what the headlines aren’t telling us.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, nudity

Cast: María Mercedes Coroy, Sabrina De La Hoz, Margarita Kenéfic and Julio Diaz.

Credits: Directed by Jayro Bustamente, script by Jayro Bustamante, Lisandro Sanchez.   A Shudder release.

Running time: 1:38

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