Although most are familiar with the “La Llorona” legend, this latest adaptation is a fresh take that tackles the complicated politics of Guatemala. Jayro Bustamante’s La Llorona (2020) uses the popular Latin American myth to bring to light the corruption and injustice that the indigenous peoples of Guatemala have faced.
La Llorona (2020) stars Julio Diaz as Enrique, a high level general in the Guatemalan military who is on trial for various war crimes chief of which being genocide. When his guilty verdict is overturned, riots force Enrique and his family to hole up in their lavish home with their longtime indigenous maid Valeriana (María Telón). However, it seems as though Enrique’s mind is failing when he begins to hear a woman crying in the middle of the night. When a new indigenous maid Alma (María Mercedes Coroy) joins the staff, the strange occurrences in the home accelerate with her at the center.
“La Llorona (2020) cultivates a tone of despair and lament that builds throughout, culminating in a wail of both catharsis and sorrow…”
The film drips with atmosphere right out of the gate. La Llorona (2020) cultivates a tone of despair and lament that builds throughout, culminating in a wail of both catharsis and sorrow for the lives lost during Guatemala’s bloody civil conflict three decades prior. Every scene is steeped in this tone though some scenes are particularly powerful. At one point during the trial, an indigenous woman recounts her experience at the hands of the Guatemalan military in her native Kaqchikel language. The content of the recollection itself is disturbing, but the delivery is highly effective. One can feel the pain and suffering that has been inflicted upon these peoples, making it all the more devastating when the verdict is overturned.
Bustamante’s use of the Kaqchikel language is notable as it serves to contrast the peoples of Guatemala to all audiences including Spanish speakers. It highlights the societal gap between the rich and the poor by establishing two separate worlds in which these characters live. La Llorona (2020) also illustrates this through the religious practices of both Enrique’s family and their maids. While both pray, the prayers are very different, and for different reasons.
La Llorona’s myth is one of regret and one steeped in the misogyny of Latin American culture. It tells of a woman who, unable to take responsibility for her inability to fulfill her husband’s desires, acts out hysterically and commits the greatest sin a mother could ever commit: murdering her own children. She is then cursed to walk the earth as a spirit, forever in search of the children she “lost.” Bustamante’s La Llorona (2020) reclaims this myth and makes it a story of revenge, of reconciliation, and of justice. Alma (whose name should tip Spanish speakers off to her intentions) takes on the role of avenger not only for the lives of her own lost children but for all those lost in the conflicts.
Speaking to the film’s effectiveness as a horror film, La Llorona (2020) does not disappoint. Though much of the film has a palpable tension, the scares take a back seat to the atmosphere. That’s not to say there aren’t any. In fact, the limited use of “scares” is perhaps to the film’s benefit as they come fast and unexpected. As a whole, La Llorona (2020) is a slow burn. It establishes its themes early and uses the horror elements to propel those themes to a satisfying climax.
More importantly, La Llorona (2020) gives voice to the injustices served to the Guatemalan people. Since Jordan Peele’s Get Out in 2017 we’ve seen a huge influx of directors new to the genre often with deeper messages than those with which we had been accustomed. While this influx of “elevated horror” is not for everyone, it is clear that we are seeing a new era for horror. Bustamante uses this new era to his advantage to bring new eyes to the horrors committed during the Guatemalan civil war. What better than a horror movie to highlight such atrocities?
The message of La Llorona (2020) becomes particularly poignant when you consider the political situations of more “developed” countries. Where military spending takes priority over social programs and where leaders are absolved by their own governments illustrating an ingrained penchant for corruption. If you ask me, that’s definitely the stuff of a horror movie!
“La Llorona (2020) is exactly the kind of horror that should be praised […] a slow burn film with powerful performances and an equally powerful message”
La Llorona (2020) is exactly the kind of horror that should be praised. It employs the elements of the genre in subtle and thoughtful ways while treating the subject matter with the utmost respect. The acting is phenomenal by every member of the cast with the hauntingly beautiful María Mercedes Coroy as Alma being the perfect foil for Julio Diaz’s retired war general Enrique. If you like a slow burn film with powerful performances and an equally powerful message, Jayro Bustamante’s La Llorona is a must watch!
You can stream La Llorona (2020) on Shudder beginning August 6th. Let us know your thoughts on Twitter, Reddit, and Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook group!