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La Llorona - Criterion Collection
Directed by Jayro Bustamante, who co-wrote with Lisandro Sanchez, 2019's La Llorona introduces us to General Enrique Monteverde (Julio Díaz). Early in the film, he is on trial, accused of masterminding the genocide of the Mayan natives of Guatemala during his stint as the country's president in the early eighties. Monteverde is, at this point in his life, an old man and he is not in the best of health. He shares a home with Carmen (Margarita Kenefic), his wife, their daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz) and their granddaughter Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado). A maid named Valeriana (María Telón) lives on set as well, as do a few other servants. The Monteverde does not want for money, they live a very comfortable life, at least in terms of material possessions and wealth.
As the start date of the trial looms heavy over Enrique's head, he starts hearing the sounds of a woman crying from inside the house at night. At first, he assumes it to be Carmen, but he quickly learns that is not the case when he realizes she's sleeping suite soundly right beside him in bed. He also finds that the faucets in the house keep getting turned on and left on. Armed with a pistol, Enrique explores the house trying to find the source and when he seems something and shoots at it, realizes he came very close to killing his wife. No one else, not family nor any of the servants, heard the crying.
The trial begins and after a verdict is reached, the entirety of the Monteverde family finds themselves in mortal danger as the people Enrique purported to serve during his time in office stage a massive protest. When the rest of the servants leave, a young woman named Alma (María Mercedes Coroy), too young to remember Enrique's stint as president, steps in to fill the void.
An eerie film that blends social commentary with an atmosphere of dread and some very stylish directorial choices, La Lorona takes the idea of the classic ‘crying woman' ghost story and gives it a modern, politically tinged spin. Generally speaking, it works and it works quite well, with Bustamante's skillful direction doing a fine job of building tension and suspense while also managing to supply enough character development that the people that populate the story feel properly fleshed out. There are moments in the film where we aren't sure if what the characters are seeing is actually happening to them or if it is the result of a mix of stress and guilt over their horrific actions in their respective pasts, some of which ties into Alma's story in interesting and unexpected ways. Visuals are also very strong, with plenty of slow, languid camera movements doing a nice job of creating some suspense and now small amount of dramatic tension.
The acting in the film is very good. Julio Díaz is quite convincing as the General, a man of force used to getting what he wants. He has a strong screen presence and absolutely looks right for the part. Margarita Kenefic and Sabrina De La Hoz are both very well-cast as his wife and daughter respectively and María Mercedes Coroy stands out as the mysterious, quiet new addition to their staff.
With all of that said, this is very definitely a slow burn. The movie doesn't rush to the finish line and it doesn't bombard its audience with loud jump scares or various ghostly creatures popping out of dark closets. The horror movie elements definitely do come second to the more dramatic aspects of the story, which concerns itself more with political justice than with keeping the audience on the edge of its seat. Mind you, that isn't a bad thing at all, but it's best to go into this one with proper expectations.
La Llorona gets a Blu-ray reissue from The Criterion Collection on a 50GB region A locked disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.39.1 widescreen, the film's proper theatrical aspect ratio, and taken from a 2k digital master approved by director Jayro Bustamante. As you'd expect for a recent digitally shot production, the image is spotless. Detail is very strong throughout, even in the film's many darker, shadowy interior set pieces. Colors are reproduced perfectly and there's good depth and texture here. Overall, the movie looks great on Blu-ray.
The only audio option provided is a Spanish language 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track with removable subtitles provided in English only. The movie's clever sound mix is replicated very nicely here, with the rear channels used effectively to build ambience throughout. The score sounds great, with plenty of depth, and the dialogue stays clean, clear and crisp from start to finish.
Extras start off with a new interview with director Jayro Bustamante that clocks in at twenty-nine minutes. He speaks here about how and why he came to make La Llorona as the film it is in its finished form, some of what inspired the movie, his thoughts on genre film and how some of the themes and ideas that are explored in the picture tie into Guatemala's history and culture.
The disc also holds a forty-four minute making of documentary comprised of some interesting interviews with the cast and crew. It provides some context for the movie, going over the civil war that Guatemala dealt with starting in 1960 and lasting thirty years, and talking about a lot of the inspiration for the making of the movie and the concept of La Llorona. There's some interesting behind the scenes footage in here as well, it's quite in-depth and it does a nice job of explaining the movie's origins and cultural roots.
Finishing up the extras on the disc is a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options. Inside the keepcase along with the disc is an insert booklet containing technical notes on the presentation as well as an essay on the film penned by journalist and novelist Francisco Goldman.
La Llorona is a quality mix of drama, folk horror elements and arthouse style, a very well-made genre picture with some strong performances and gorgeous cinematography. The Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection is a very good one, offering up the movie in a very strong presentation and with a nice selection of extras features well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.