Film Review: The Curse of La Llorona (15), 5/10
Nineteenth-century Mexican folklore provides hoary inspiration for a dusty sixth chapter in the Conjuring horror franchise.
A dreamy, slow-motion prologue set in 1673 invokes the wrath of a mother (Marisol Ramirez), who drowns her two children after she learns of her nobleman husband's infidelity and then kills herself in the same river.
Her vengeful spirit, known as the Weeping Woman, haunts the mortal plane, targeting children who disobey their parents.
This hellish harpy haunts the dimly lit frames of director Michael Chaves's film, cracking mirrors with her hideous reflection and scorching flesh of intended victims.
Screenwriters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis unpick a gossamer thin narrative thread to connect this creaky instalment to the rest of the series.
The parish priest from Annabelle, who attempted to exorcise the possessed doll, provides spiritual guidance here too, relating the grim history of the spectre before vanishing completely from a lacklustre battle between good and phantasmagorical evil.
A ramshackle script exhumes jump scares from a long tradition of haunted house thrillers in which characters ignore common sense and venture into darkened rooms, where a staccato burst of strings on the soundtrack heralds the emergence of something unspeakable from the choking blackness.
Hardened horror fans won't flinch or break sweat.
In 1973 Los Angeles, social worker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) visits the home of Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez), whose children have failed to appear at school.
Anna enters the candle-lit apartment and is attacked by a crazed, hammer-wielding Patricia, who has locked her boys Carlos (Oliver Alexander) and Tomas (Aiden Lewandowski) in a cupboard adorned with symbols of protection.
'Close the door, she'll hurt us,' plead the terrified tykes.
Anna promises Carlos and Tomas they will be safe and relocates them to a charity shelter.
That night, Detective Cooper (Seán Patrick Thomas) telephones with grim news: the Alvarez boys have been drowned.
At first, police suspect Patricia but the grief-stricken mother publicly blames Anna.
The social worker's reckless actions exposed the boys to a diabolical spectre called La Llorona (Ramirez), who will now turn her murderous gaze on Anna's cherubic offspring, Chris (Roman Christou) and Sam (Jaynee-Lynn Kinchen).
Anna seeks counsel from Father Perez (Tony Amendola) and he directs Anna to former priest Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), 'a shaman who operates on the fringes of religion and science'.
The Curse Of La Llorona splutters from one predictable jolt to the next, punctuated by ear-piercing screams from the cast.
Dialogue teeters on the brink of unintentional hilarity and one performance is almost as wooden as the family home where the terror predominantly manifests.
Composer Josh Bishara, who scored other films in the franchise, turns up the volume in the hope that might keep us awake.