Written by: Adam Vaughn | August 5th, 2020
La Llorona (Jayro Bustamante, 2019) 2½ out of 4 stars.
La Llorona tells the story of a retired Guatemalan General (and fallen dictator) as he faces trial for his criminal role in a genocide against the indigenous Mayan population. Simultaneously, he faces a vengeful, unearthly force that surrounds the new Mayan housekeeper who has joined the family workforce. The film spends a considerable and worthy amount of time covering the social elements of Guatemala, as well as the terror visited upon the Mayans, and (sometimes) brings in supernatural horror as a metaphor for the anger and justice-seeking of said people.
As a film with abstract commentary on racial tensions within Guatemala, La Llorona delivers a powerful vision of the conflict between Enrique (Julio Diaz) and the Mayan protestors. Indirectly, some of the tension and suspense of the film derives form the force of the Mayan protestors and the Guatemalan justice system, and the toll that both elements take on Enrique and his family. In opposition to the family is Alma (Maria Mercedes Coroy), the family’s new housemaid, who plays a mysterious role in the supernatural forces that rise towards the end of the film, and also has an eerie relationship with the family’s daughter, Maria (Ayla-Eela Hurtado). Together, all of this gives the film a realistic and natural tone, depicting a family who towers above the masses yet is subject to their disdain and wrath.
Unfortunately, the film, released as a “horror genre” film, inevitably plays out more like a melodrama, pushing the horrific elements to the background for the duration of the film. This makes the few truly terrifying (and very tasteful) moments feel out of place. While one can very much appreciate establishing characters, location, and situation, the story doesn’t take us in any emotionally impactful direction, leaving the would-be chilling scenes at the conclusion of the film very confusing. Had the film fully chosen a dramatic route, a very moving story of societal vengeance and cultural tension would remain. As is, the film hangs in the balance of both, unsure to which style to fully commit.