Review: Folk tales are our guilty pleasures

The Curse of La Llorona

Director: Michael Chaves

Cast: Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz and Patricia Velasquez

Studio: Warner Brothers


Folklore has its roots in the real world. Something inexplicable occurred that the locals didn’t have an explanation for, and thus took it as an opportunity to teach through the lurid notion of the supernatural.

Perhaps in the 20th century, and earlier, those teachable moments used fear far too often.

That’s where The Curse of La Llorona enters.

Like the Krampus legend during Christmastime, kelpies, Baba Yaga and the Ijiraq of Inuit legend, there are many old-world tales that keep children in check.

The Weeping Woman, as La Llorona is known as in English, is a trope that is consistent throughout the culture.

The aggrieved woman, wronged by an adulterous husband, lashes out and kills the offspring. Stricken with grief, she continues her search for replacement children.

Its common threads to the horror of the modern world can be rooted in Susan Smith’s South Carolina court case. She is the woman known to have strapped her two children, three and 14-months into their seats and driving the car into John D. Long Lake where they subsequently drowned.

Water seems to not wash away La Llorona’s sins, as the wraith drags children to their watery graves, repeating the sin she performed much like Sisyphus repeatedly pushes a boulder uphill.

The results, of course, are downhill for any poor soul who crosses paths with the woman in white.

In this instance, Linda Cardellini — who plays the recently widowed mother of two — is cursed by the mother of one of her social work cases.

You see, Patricia Alvarez (played by a haggard looking former model, Patricia Velasquez), was being investigated by child services. Her boys are taken into custody and thus left vulnerable to La Llorona.

The Alvarez matriarch prays to the wraith to take Cardellini’s son Chris and daughter Sam. And thus the plot.

Throughout the movie, the characters hide their brushes with La Llorona, giving a nod to today’s frowning upon folktales and anything remotely superstitious.

Even the church, represented by Father Perez, shrugs off helping Cardellini. One should recognize Perez. Given The Curse of La Llorona is set in 1973, Perez reflects on his brush with a doll by the name of Annabelle.

Still, not to pooh-pooh on the Catholics, he suggests a former man of the cloth who has become a faith healer to help expedite the dispatching of the wraith. After all, with any big institution, there is bound to be red tape.

Raymond Cruz plays Rafael and he truly steals the show. Paying some attention to Latin American rituals, as he practices the curandero — the rubbing of a raw egg over surfaces to capture the energy of the Mal de Ojo and he adorns homes in various talismans.

The veracity of the traditions are suspect, but Cruz even collects the presumed ectoplasmic evidence of La Llorona (her tears) and blesses them. Later on, he’ll refer to them as “antivenom.”

The film itself follows the same path as most supernatural horrors. A basic story arc of someone doing they shouldn’t have, introducing a spirit, the haunting escalates until by some happenstance they exorcize the demon.

The trope of a vengeful spirit that kills children has been commonplace since Greek mythology and Judeo-Christian beliefs involving Lillith.

In Kenneth Untiedt’s book, Folklore: In All of Us, in All We Do, he traces La Llorona back to the Greek tragedies of Lamia and Medea.

Of course, Medea, as shared through Euripides’ work, was just slightly miffed that her beau, Jason, left her to marry a princess. That’s the cause, and the effect, was infanticide.

Infanticide is a topic that makes us, as a society, uncomfortable. And rightly so. One family is gone in one fell swoop. And that is the true horror that manifests itself.

Photo courtesy Warner Bros.

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