Saturday, April 20, 2019

Tears For Fears: The Penultimate Peril

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: 2019
Director: Damir Catic
Cast: Nichole Ceballos, James Ezrin, Ron Gelner 
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

Once upon a time in 2013, there was a film called Her Cry: La Llorona Investigation. It was a microbudget found footage film created by a senior assistant manager at an Edwards multiplex in Texas that saw a local release and quietly vanished into the dark night of indie film apocrypha. It was one of the films on my longlist when I initially researched this project, but I had to scratch it off because it just wasn't available for public consumption.

Cue the impending release of The Curse of La Llorona. One week before, WildEye Releasing snuck onto Amazon clutching the distribution rights to Her Cry and peddling a DVD now titled The La Llorona Curse. What a wild coincidence, one might say! Even though you and I both know that they just grabbed whatever related property they could get their hands on, I will be referring to the film by its new title and release date, because for all intents and purposes it hasn't existed in the greater film market until now.

It turns out all you need is a Ouija board to summon a slimy distributor.

So, The La Llorona Curse (which crudely shoehorns its title card in at the beginning, even though they forgot to excise the Her Cry title card drop a couple minutes later on) is about a paranormal investigation team in South Texas who run a TV show with inscrutable degrees of success. They're successful enough that certain interviewees have seen it and they have enough fans to demand followups to popular episodes, but when an intern shows up on site for her paranormal training she is shocked that there are cameras filming her.

It's best not to think too hard about that. Anyway, the intern in question is Andrea (Gabrielle Santamauro), and she's joined teammates James (James Ezrin) and Brian (Everardo Guzman) in an ancient house of spirits that was once owned by renowned explorer Hernán Cortes (as played by a generic suburban tract home). This is the site where sorority girl Tina (Nichole Ceballos) was haunted by La Llorona several years ago - in fact she has been locked in that room right over there since then! And nobody fed her, I guess, so I don't know why when they see her they expect that she won't be inhabited by the spirit of La Llorona. Oh well. 

Será será.

I won't dive into the plot any further than that, because there really isn't one. In the cold open, which involves an interview with one of the last people to see any of these kids alive, the interviewer explains that he pieced together what he could from the footage they left behind, excising everything but the important events and "some that are not so important." Well let me tell you what, the whole movie seems composed of the latter, unless the police considered "amateur actors ad-libbing for full minutes on end" to be incredibly important to the investigation.

I don't want to harp on the amateur cast and filmmakers for screwing around with a camera and having fun. I've participated in my fair share of projects that were never supposed to see the light of day. But I can blame WildEye Releasing for scooping it up and trying to trick people into watching it, because it's not exactly a fountain of fascinating entertainment. Just because I knew exactly what I was getting myself into doesn't mean that a whole bunch of unsuspecting knuckleheads on Amazon need to see this film.

I do want to highlight a couple moments from actress Gabrielle Santamauro, however. She injects the film with a delightful and much-needed shot of adrenaline during an ad-libbed monologue where she desperately tries to convince the others to leave the house. She throws her whole body into the performance, hands flapping like she's batting away an entire Amityville film's worth of flies as her mouth runs a mile a minute. It's not a Meryl Streep moment, but she's incredibly engrossing to watch. And there is one facet of her role that gives the film its only moment of subtlety. When a priest visits to do the obligatory "this is beyond the realm of God" bit, there is a moment when she clearly wants to say a curse word, but nervously looks at the Father and switches streams mid-sentence. It's the only moment where anybody seems to be actually inhabiting a character, and while it's not a wow zowie going-on-the-reel bit, it's something I really respected her for doing.

You go, girl!

Unfortunately for me, beyond those moments this movie doesn't have particularly anything to offer, even to the larger canon of La Llorona. They don't seem to have any interest in using the legend as anything other than a generic Paranormal Activity possession riff. There's almost nothing to do with children, rivers, drowning, or even the literal namesake of the original film, crying. She's just a generic spooky shadow seen in the corner of rooms who does nothing interesting.

This new movie doesn't look like it will be particularly good, but at least it seems remotely aware of the iconography of the character, and for that I will thank it. I need to be lifted out of the cookie-cutter, milquetoast morass that these movies became in the mid-2000's, with very few exceptions.

TL;DR: The La Llorona Curse is everything a shitty early 2010's found footage movie promises to be.
Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 956

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