I have been critical of the newest introduction into James Wan’s Conjuring Universe, The Curse of La Llorona, since I saw the first trailer. The lead character, in the film about a Mexican folktale, is Linda Cardellini. I’ve had words about it on Twitter and I can honestly say that the worry and anger I have felt about this film is unmatched by any other release.
As a Chicana, the story of La Llorona is near and dear to me. As a kid, my grandmother used her to scare us. This story was, in many ways, my entrance into horror. But La Llorona is more than just a scary story, she is a cultural touchstone for many Mexican and Mexican-Americans.
So, when I got the chance to interview the cast and crew of The Curse of La Llorona at the film’s world premiere at South by Southwest, I was nervous. As one of the few Latinx writers on the red carpet, I felt the burden of representation on my shoulders. While those around me couldn’t pronounce the title of the movie correctly and asked questions like “what was the best food you ate, here in Austin,” I felt that it was up to me to ask slightly tougher questions. But instead of assuming the team got it wrong, I went in with an open mind.
While I asked varied questions depending on the talent’s involvement with the film, I made sure to ask what was my priority as a Chicana critic. To every person, I asked: “This film is about a story that is important to so many Mexican and Mexican-Americans, how did you make sure you respected that?” Now, there were variances, of course, depending on involvement, but every person on the carpet, from writer, to star, to director answered with some form of “we needed to get it right.”
To put in context, the film has no Mexican or Mexican-American crew and only one Mexican-American in the cast, Raymond Cruz, who plays Rafael Olivera, a cuandero tasked with saving the Tate-Garcia family. Beyond that, Patricia Velásquez, an actress of Venezuelan descent is in the cast as well. Otherwise, there are no Latinos involved. It was worrisome. However, as each of the people responded, my mind opened up a little more to be receptive to the screening after the interviews.
The writers behind the film Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis explained that they knew that the story had to be told with respect and that they needed to get it right. While explaining their research into the legend, they mapped out the different avenues they went through to piece together a narrative for the film. From personal stories and reported sightings, to popular iterations of the myth; the writing duo explained how they read and listened to as much as they could about La Llorona.
For this, they widened the scope to look at other myths from Latin America that have commonalities with La Llorona. This included things like versions of the myth that says that she takes the lives of cheating men and reveal a horse head.
Now, this is a legend in its own right and shouldn’t be wrapped in with La Llorona but, I can understand how those outside of the legend, would see the legend of La Siguanaba that originated in Central America, primarily Guatemala and El Salavador, as the same as La Llorona.
This sentiment of exploration was also explained by Chaves, the director. He explained how instead of starting small they started with everything and then distilled into the story told in the film as to not miss important things about the folktale. As the crew involved went through and explained details that they felt they needed to get right. There were deep cuts to small pieces of the myth that resonated.
When I spoke with Cardilini, I asked her if she knew about La Llorona before the film. The answer was no and then she explained how that was real to her character. As she went on to explain her character’s motives and the process of becoming Anna Tate-Garcia, she said she asked people around her about the myth and got to learn more. The importance of her character she said, was that she was a well-meaning woman who wanted to do the right things but instead made everything worse.
For her, playing a character who should have just listened and believed but instead brought the horror on herself was interesting. She wasn’t the hero of the film, she wasn’t the victim, she was instead someone who should have just listened. As much as I enjoyed speaking with everyone on the carpet, it was my conversations with Cruz and Patricia Velásquez made me open to The Curse of La Llorona.
Cruz initially had reservations with the project, but as he read the script and got into his character of the cuandero, they fell away. For him, the film was important. It was us, Latinos, finally having our story told. He explained that he wanted people to be scared like he was scared growing up. Cruz explained that to him, it was a story that once shared would leave “our” mark on horror. When I asked what Mexican-Americans and Latinos would take from the film he reiterated, that it was our story and that it was one done with respect.
Beyond his feelings around the movie, he also shared the scary experiences that he went through while on set. The weird occurrences, including his beaded-bracelet shattering off of his wrist, showed that they were tapping into something real. As a believer in the supernatural, he was assured that La Llorona or at least the Ojo was on set.
But Cruz wasn’t the only one with a supernatural story, Velásquez had her own story to tell. As a mother, she wanted to tap into the fear and the fight to keep her children safe, the main goal of her character in the film. To do so, she wrote on a piece of paper, hoping for a dream to get her into the mind of her character, Patricia Alvarez. When she went to sleep that night she was awoken by screams, she injured herself running to her daughter’s room, and that was when she knew she was in the role.
On the topic of respecting the legend, Velásquez explained that when she read the script, she was on board. The script from Daughtry and Iaconis was respectful and real to her, having grown up with the legend she saw it in there. She also explained that every part of the film would be recognizable to Latinos watching the film.
After speaking with Velásquez and Cruz, I was open to the movie. It was no longer a film I was dreading to see, but one that I was curious about. After months of hand wringing and refusal to accept a film about La Llorona with almost no Mexican involvement, I was open to the film.
Discussing the respect needed to get it right extended outside of the red carpet and into the Q&A following the screening of the film. There, producer James Wan explained that La Llorona was a folktale that was brought to him from the moment he started his universe. People would tell him to tell this story and as he looked into it, he saw parallels to stories in his own Chinese culture and other cultures around the world.
The crew’s globalization of La Llorona happened as the moderator asked questions about the film, with the director, the writers, and Wan, not mentioning the importance of this legend to Mexican culture. They said everything but Mexico. However, when Velásquez brought up Mexico, Cruz grounded the talk in that culture and even made the statement that this, Austin, Texas, was Mexico. For me, in the audience, this was a statement that showed that for him, the film never lost that grounding, even if for others it did.
All photos of talent on the red carpet compliments of Vince (@Neoash1 )
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.