The horror movie “The Curse of La Llorona” has more jump scares than a faulty trampoline, efficiently getting to the audience’s lizard-brain instincts to scream when prompted.
This isn’t your so-called “elevated” horror, like Jordan Peele’s movies. This movie, a far spinoff of “The Conjuring” franchise, is bargain-basement shocks.
Set in 1973, the story centers on Anna Tate-Garcia (played by “Green Book’s” Linda Cardellini), a caseworker for Los Angeles’ child protective services department. Anna’s most troubling case at the moment is Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez), whom Anna finds locking her two sons in a closet. Patricia tells Anna she’s protecting from some sinister presence.
The police don’t believe Patricia, and arrest her for child endangerment. Anna escorts her boys, Carlos (Oliver Alexander) and Tomas (Aiden Lewandowski), to a Catholic-run group home for the night — promising the boys that she’ll make sure they’re safe. Of course, Anna can’t keep that promise, and the boys are found that night, drowned in the Los Angeles river.
Some background on Anna: She’s the widow of a cop, recently killed in the line of duty. She’s now alone with their two kids, Chris (Roman Christou), and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen).
On the night Patricia’s children die, Anna goes to the scene, with Chris and Samantha in the car. Chris wanders off for a moment and hears someone crying. It turns out to be the same spirit — a woman in a white dress — that haunted Carlos and Tomas. And now they’re after Chris and Samantha.
Anna learns about the woman, La Llorona, a Mexican ghost story, from kindly Father Perez (Tony Amendola) — who, the movie reminds us, had a pivotal role in “Annabelle,” the spinoff of “The Conjuring.” Father Perez can’t help Anna, but knows someone who can: Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz, from “Breaking Bad”), an ex-priest and shaman.
Rookie director Michael Chaves knows the mechanics of horror pretty well, and finds plenty of creepy ways to have La Llorona (played by Marisol Ramirez) surprise people effectively. Alas, screenwriters Mikky Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis — who wrote the unscary medical romance “Five Feet Apart” — can’t make the story add up to more than the sum of its shocks.
Presumably, as the sixth installment of “The Conjuring” universe, this won’t be the last of it. (In fact, a trailer for “Annabelle Comes Home” preceded the screening I attended, and Chaves is on board to direct “The Conjuring 3.”) I’m hoping, based on what we see here, that Cruz’ Rafael gets spun off into his own supernatural adventures, lifting hard-to-pronounce curses around Los Angeles.
‘The Curse of La Llorona’
Opens Friday, April 19, at theaters everywhere. Rated R for violence and terror. Running time: 93 minutes.