Like most movies, “The Curse of La Llorona” is part of the extended “Conjuring” universe. The connection is negligible — the older priest in this one had an encounter with the evil doll in “The Conjuring” prequel “Annabelle” — but it’s enough to slap the franchise name on it and tide fans over until the next “Conjuring” film, which is called “Annabelle Comes Home” and won’t be released for another 10 whole weeks.
Easily the weakest of the not-very-strong bunch, “La Llorona” is set in Los Angeles in 1973 and concerns a busy single mom named Anna (Linda Cardellini) who works for Child Protective Services. She’s bad at her job, but that’s somewhat beside the point and isn’t acknowledged by the movie anyway. (Seeing a burn mark on a child’s arm, she asks if his mother did it. The boy’s brother says it wasn’t her. Anna asks zero followup questions.) When two Hispanic boys turn up drowned in the river under mysterious circumstances, Anna learns from the aforementioned priest, Father Perez (Tony Amendola), about the legend of La Llorona (“weeping woman”), a 17th-century lady who drowned her own children and now roams the countryside looking for other kids to murder. Everyone assumes it was the kids’ own crazy mother (Patricia Velasquez) who did it, but we suspect it was the ghost lady.
Anna’s own children get involved when she brings them to the crime scene and her son, Chris (Roman Christou), wanders off and has a brief interaction with La Llorona, a woman in white who cries black tears. Sra. Llorona is sometimes a ghost but sometimes takes corporeal form. Sometimes you can see her, sometimes you can’t. She likes to appear and disappear suddenly, her appearances always accompanied by loud, screeching music to let us know that what’s happening is scary.
The movie follows the PG-13 horror template with absolute fidelity (and don’t be misled by the R rating: it’s a PG-13 movie). The screenplay, by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis (the duo behind “Five Feet Apart”), makes no attempt to spice things up, and first-time director Michael Chaves (who will helm “The Conjuring 3” next year) seems content to let everything unfold exactly as prescribed by the 10,000 identical films already released. A less reputable priest (Raymond Cruz) is brought in for some mumbo-jumbo exorcising, and the last 30 minutes are full of the usual haunted-house shenanigans, screaming, being dragged down hallways by unseen forces, etc. It’s toothless, inoffensive horror at its most toothless and inoffensive.
C (1 hr., 33 min.; )