This political horror film takes its title from a Meso-American folkloric legend about the ghost of a woman who roams waterfront areas mourning her drowned children. In the film La Llorona comes into the lives of a powerful family as they’re sequestered in their house and slowing pulls the patriarch’s very dark past to the surface. Set in Guatemala, the film centers on Enrique (Julio Diaz), a retired general who has been tried and convicted for the genocide of the country’s Mayan-Ixil population during the civil war there. Just after his conviction though, a higher court overturns the it, but the public is up in arms. And Enrique and his family become prisoners in their own home. All the indigenous servants except one quit, fearing for their safety. And then a young woman shows up at the door, the new maid. But who is she really?

Even before Alma (María Mercedes Coroy, Ixcanul) arrives, Enrique begins hearing the sound of a crying woman in the house. His family thinks he’s just imagining it. His wife Carmen tries her best to put on a brave front, still insisting to her daughter that Enrique didn’t do what they said. But then she begins to have nightmares about being hunted down by blood-thirsty military men. And Alma’s arrival brings up a lot of other things the family hasn’t talked about, like how the maid Valeriana (María Telón), the only one of the staff to stay behind, is likely Enrique’s daughter, what with the military kidnapping and raping all the indigenous women.

Water is a very important element in the film. Alma bonds with the granddaughter Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado) as she teaches her to hold her breath underwater. One of Enrique’s visions has the house being flooded. And Carmen’s dreams include watching her children being drowned by the military.  And while the family slowly breaks down within, just outside the gates, the people are protesting and there are constant chants and drumbeats.

Coroy’s Alma is a nearly silent character, but still a powerful presence in the house.  And though the film begins as the story of Enrique, it’s really about the women – the mother who knew; the daughter whose husband mysteriously disappeared; the granddaughter who’s drawn to the new maid, the indigenous daughter who can’t leave, and the spectral Alma. It’s about how not confronting evil makes you complicit, and not asking questions that you don’t want to know the answers to can be more damaging than knowing. It’s a quiet horror, and extremely well done.

La Llorona is on the short list for Best International Feature Film at this year’s Academy Awards and it on just about every Best Of 2020 list. It’s currently streaming on Shudder, (free with a free trial subscription) or wait for it to come to more streaming services. There are a lot of movies with this title, so be sure you’re watching the right one.  

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