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by Susan Ryant

Directed by Patricia Harris Seeley, written by Cameron Larson (story) and Jose Prendes (screenplay), The Legend of La Llorona follows a family vacationing to Mexico in an effort to escape the grief that has fallen over them. The mom, Carly (Autumn Reeser) is somber and distraught, while her husband Andrew (Antonio Cupo) strives to make the vacation enjoyable for him and their son Danny (Nicolas Madrazo). Present alongside them throughout the story are two prominent side characters – Veronica (Angélica Lara), their housekeeper, and Jorge (Danny Trejo), a friendly taxi driver. But the family’s trip away proves to be anything but relaxing, as they attempt to navigate their surroundings and avoid dangerous cartel members, as well as that of La Llorona herself (played by Zamia Fandiño).

The ghost haunts the family from the start, attempting to take Danny away. It isn’t long though until she succeeds and Carly, Andrew, Veronica, and Jorge set out to save the boy. Though The Legend of La Llorona struggles under the weight of some cheesy presentation and surface level suspense, it still offers an emotionally strong narrative to become invested in.

Narratively, the film presents an intriguing premise with a good amount of mystique and curiosity to carry viewers along. What really helps to elevate the overall experience though is potential care the audience can develop towards the family. Each actor provides a sincerity to their role that displays a family making efforts to heal from tremendous pain; in how they support one another and come together, there’s a lot at work to win audiences over and root for them. Watching as Carly and the other adults attempt to find and save Danny is the real driving force and where one may feel most engaged.

It’s a real shame then how comical a lot of the La Llorona interactions are (even though her backstory also provides a powerful, heartbreaking factor to the narrative). While the ghost herself has some creepy moments in chasing down and haunting people, a lot of her animation comes across goofy. This version of La Llorona is also very strong and has the means to go after the family beyond that of her regular grounds; so, while the investigative work behind stopping her is interesting, it’s tough to feel a level of seriousness when people are pulling out shotguns and pistols and trying to blast her away.

For a film that includes a decent amount of heavy subject matter – with a strong emphasis on parenting – one can’t help but chuckle when these scenes come up (because it happens more than once). Where the film could have leaned in more with tones of dread and other supernatural horror, La Llorona can come across like a cheesy threat. In fact, though they feel like an odd shove-in of side characters, the relatively small amount of screen time the cartel characters get make them the more unnerving threat to the family.

There’s a lot of promise in the beginning of The Legend of La Llorona, and thankfully, some of those stronger qualities of the film remain consistent throughout. It’s just a letdown then when the film presents more surface level chills that undercut the moments of eeriness and somber auras. Had there been more attention provided to the atmosphere, and maybe less oddly abrasive action, The Legend of La Llorona may have offered more ghostly power to creep audiences out.

The Legend of La Llorona is now available on VOD outlets.