La Llorona Frightens and Enlightens [Review]

If you need evidence for why Own Voices stories matter, try watching the Conjuring Universe’s middle of the road The Curse of La Llorona from 2019 and Jayro Bustamante’s excellent La Llorona from this year back to back. Both films are about the same folk monster: La Llorona, a woman who drowned her children in the river and searches for their souls. In the Conjuring Universe film, La Llorona is a typical series villain, shoehorned in as a vehicle for largely unsatisfying jump scares. Bustamante, a native Guatemalan, uses the same folklore to address the Maya Ixil genocide of the 1980s, making an important film that still manages to be scarier than the Conjuring Universe collection of jump scares.

La Llorona is focused around the fictional General Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz) who is on trial for committing genocide between 1982 and 1983. He’s a clear fictionalized stand-in for  General Efraín Ríos Montt who was convicted of committing genocide between 1982 and 1983. The film opens with Enrique’s trial. His men prepare, with one of them instructing, “Wear no badges. Dark suits, nothing shiny. Dark, not black. You must look flawless. You are heroes, not victims.” Enrique is found guilty early-on with his defense arguing that his mass murder targeted guerrilas who all happened to be Maya Ixil, not the Maya Ixil people specifically.

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