Thursday, February 28, 2019

Tears For Fears: Scare-editary

Welcome back to my Tears for Fears marathon, where I will be covering every movie featuring the Mexican folk legend La Llorona in anticipation of her newest movie in April...

Year: 2004
Director: Lorena Villareal
Cast: Miguel Rodarte, Elizabeth Ávila, Francisco Gattorno
Run Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

The thing about La Llorona is that, as the ghost of a woman who cries all the time, it's very easy to paint her as a stereotype of female hysteria and embrace lots of very bad clichés about "how women are," rather than as the literal metaphysical embodiment of pure grief. We've seen this before and we'll see it again, but 2004's Las Lloronas breaks the mold in a very special way. It's the first film on the list to be directed by a woman (one who gets special thanks in the credits of Roma, no less), and as usually does with this type of story in a male-driven art form, it makes a world of difference.

Not that there's NOT a lot of crying.

Las Lloronas tells the story of three generations of women who are all descended from the original Llorona (for those who need a reminder - a woman who was spurned by her husband and drowned her children in retaliation) and are cursed to have their male children die during an eclipse. Lucía (Elizabeth Ávila) has just returned to her hometown with a newborn son and deadbeat husband in tow. While her husband is off trying to do business with her uncle (something about digging wells, even though the water in the town is contaminated - metaphor alert!), she reunites with her ex-boyfriend Luis (Rodrigo Mejía) and her not-really cousin Hernán (Miguel Rodarte, the only person in this movie I'd heard of before, but I suppose that's not really saying much - he's famous though, is what I'm trying to get across), both of whom are deeply, madly in love with her.

As the eclipse draws near, tensions boil to a head for Lucía as her loveless marriage crumbles and her mother - spurred on by her grandmother's grim tarot readings - descends into madness, worried sick for her grandson and certain that submerging him in the river will save him from the curse. Similar drama emerges for her cousin Diana (Elizabeth Valdez), who unexpectedly bears a son days before the eclipse is due.

It turns out it's still difficult to find good screenshots for obscure Mexican horror. Who knew?

Now, let's make one thing clear. Director/co-writer Lorena Villarreal is absolutely not interested in making a horror film. She positions La Llorona and her curse as an ancestral burden in the way that Hereditary was totally attempting to, and uses it as fuel for what amounts to folklore-tinged, feature-length telenovela. It's not interested in cheap scares because it's not interested in scares at all. 

This is the stuff of pure melodrama, and just like all the purest drugs it's wholly intoxicating. There are guns pointing every which way, multiple counts of incest, secret dalliances and business dealings, backstory revelations, and all sorts of plotty threads to wrap you up in the film. The men are all gorgeous (especially Rodarte, who looks good now as a silver fox, but was quite the stunner when he was young), the soundtrack is a string of bangers (as you can see in the poster above, this movie was even promoting the presence of the track "Bandido" by Ana Bárbara, a selling point which I fully endorse), and it's really the ultimate treat a soap opera fan might want.

But, even more importantly, Las Lloronas has heart. Villareal has taken one look at the legend and cut right through it to its political core, telling a story of women being battered and bruised by the patriarchy - sometimes emotionally, sometimes physically. The men in their lives die or leave or torment them time and again, and the noble burden of women is to suffer, survive, and thrive with what little they're given from a world that isn't built for them to succeed. The actresses who bring this story to life are superb, especially for this budget level, and by the time the film hits its grand finale I was fully sobbing on my couch from the pure, unadulterated feeling of it all.

This movie truly makes you BECOME La LLorona.

Las Lloronas isn't perfect, and I'm not trying to convince you it is. Its pacing is quite deliberate, and  if you come in expecting it to be a creepy horror story this will hit you especially hard. And there are a lot of cutaways to various psychic visions that are a little too repetitive, even if they are stylish and are the only moments that feature the actual Llorona, presented as a faraway figure tinged with a bit of a J-horror feel in her look and the motion of the camera watching her.

But all in all, it was a stunning effort, pumping every ounce of potential from its extremely low budget. Though I will say that this is one of those recommendations where I feel inclined to attach a grain of salt. If you aren't as inclined to melodrama and regional storytelling as I am, there's probably not much for you here. But if you're ready to receive it, Las Lloronas has a lot to give. 

This is not the best movie about La Llorona, because it's only about her insofar as she provides a theme and a framing narrative. But this is the movie I've enjoyed most so far in this marathon, one that has been an unusually satisfactory and rewarding series to begin with.

TL;DR: Las Lloronas is less a horror film and more a melodrama, but it's a spectacular melodrama.
Rating: 8/10
Word Count: 963


  1. 1. I enjoy the shade thrown toward Hereditary.

    2. "It's the first film on the list to be directed by a woman (one who gets special thanks in the credits of Roma, no less)" I would bet any amount of money I would like this *much* more than Roma.

  2. I'm always happy to provide Hereditary shade.

    And perhaps! If you're interested, I can toss you that sweet sweet subtitle file. Though I loved the hell out of Roma, so we might be in another Lady Bird vs. Eighth Grade situation