In Guatemalan/French co-production La Llorona, director Jayro Bustamante offers up a historical and political spin on the South American legend of the titular “Weeping Woman” ghost. The result is an eerie film that delivers the supernatural goods along with topical drama.
Ailing, aged military dictator General Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz) is confined to his home after a court decision that finds him guilty of war crimes against the indigeous Kaqchikel people is overturned by his cronies. Guatemalan citizens including Kaqchikel people protest outside his mansion around the clock. Stuck inside with the General are his embittered, witchcraft-practicing wife Carmen (Margarita Kenéfic); their physician daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz); her young daughter Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado); and head servant Valeríana (María Telón). After one night when the General hears a woman wailing and investigates with a gun in hand, all of the staff members except Valeríana resign in fear. A new servant named Alma (María Mercedes Coroy) is hired, and from the shot that introduces her character, viewers can sense that business is about to pick up. Indeed, it does, as Alma and Sara form a close bond after the new servant silently shows the girl a frog. Creepy occurrences take place, and the General’s physical condition worsens while his paranoia heightens. Meanwhile, the closeness between family members fray as the throng outside ceaselessly cries for justice and the home itself offers no protection from paranormal forces.
Bustamante, who co-wrote with Lisandro Sanchez, has fashioned a terrific film that is haunting on multiple levels. The testimony of a Kaqchikel woman is a powerful early scene that gives the film a stark reality, while the supernatural elements are used to great effect, eschewing jump scares and gore for a truly spine-tingling sense of dread. The resplendent mansion becomes an eldritch maze, especially after the sun sets. Bustamante also raises the bar for dream sequences in horror films, as one of the privileged characters is placed in the center of shocking military brutality.
The cast is superb throughout, with Coroy turning in an outstanding performance as the often-silent, mysterious Alma and De La Hoz also exceptional in her role as the daughter who is increasingly suspicious of her parents’ actions — for good reason, because her father may have made her husband disappear.
La Llorona won several well-deserved awards during its film festival run. It is an expertly directed, beautifully shot offering that chills for real-life and supernatural reasons alike. The cast members all turn in memorable performances. The film presents social messages that should resonate internationally, meaning that viewers unfamiliar with Guatemalan politics and history should not be lost on the concepts presented. La Llorona is a fine slice of arthouse horror cinema that I highly recommend.
La Llorona is available on Shudder (in the United States), Shudder Canada, and Shudder UK from August 6.