If the likes of The Witch, Hereditary, and Suspiria occupy the rarefied air of so-called ‘elevated horror’, the Conjuring franchise (currently standing at two Conjurings, two Annabelles and a Nun) represents the other end of the scale – simpler, more profitable scarefests that only have one aim: to frighten the bejesus out of you. The Curse Of La Llorona, the latest entry in the Conjuring series (the link is Annabelle’s Father Perez played by Tony Amendola), rides along with similar honest ambitions but doesn’t meet them in an over-familiar effort filled with pallid genre staples.
Following a prologue that establishes the legend of La Llorona — in 17th Century Mexico, a wife drowns her two kids to spite her cheating husband, her guilty ghost subsequently preying on children to replace her own — the set-up for the main 1973 story is pedestrian. Anna (Linda Cardellini), the widow of a cop, works too hard for child protection services and plonks her two kids in front of the TV watching Scooby Doo (a nice throwback to Cardellini’s role as Velma in the live-action version). She is pulled into a case where mother Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez) has boarded her two children in a cupboard. Anna frees them and puts them in care, where they mysteriously wind up dead by dawn. Holding Anna responsible, Alvarez rants about a supernatural force and passes the La Llorona curse on to Anna’s kids, believing their death might bring back her own children (do hexes work on a tit-for-tat basis?)
What prevails is a deluge of ineffective jump scares (the Weeping Woman is a seen-that-done-that yellow-eyed bride crying jet black tears in a wedding dress), hoary old tropes (spooky kids in corridors with flickering lights) and a convenient use of spectral laws of physics (this ghost can wind down car windows). There is the odd effective moment — a creepy poltergeist hair-wash — and Better Call Saul’s Raymond Cruz turns up as a Latino exorcist, lending the picture a dry sense of deadpan humour. But, despite Cardellini’s best efforts, this is tired, hackneyed stuff, winding up in a final ghost vs. family showdown that fizzles rather than frightens.