Long ago there was a lady named Maria, the most beautiful woman in all of Mexico. She married a wealthy ranchero and bore him two sons. But when Maria found her husband in the arms of another, she snapped and, in a moment of madness, drowned her children. When she came to her senses she was so grief stricken, she hurled herself into the river – and was cursed to walk the Earth for all eternity, searching for the souls of her children – or any others unfortunate enough to cross her path. That's the legend of the Weeping Woman and the basis of The Curse of La Llorona – the debut feature from director Michael Chaves. "There’s a lot of different versions of the tale," says Chaves when asked to explain the myth. "It’s become this ghost story that is often told by abuelas to their grandchildren – 'You'd better behave or La Llorona's going to come and get you…'"
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The film takes place in LA in the 1970s and follows Anna (Avengers: Age Of Ultron's Linda Cardellini), a social worker and mother of two who, after one job, finds her family haunted by the predatory spirit, which is intent on stealing her children. “Anna will do anything to protect her kids,” says Chaves of the film’s heroine. “We wanted her to be an outsider who comes to this legend not having grown up with it.”
Taking the part of the titular terror is Marisol Ramirez. “She’s just incredible,” says Chaves. “We really wanted someone terrifying, who could plumb the depths of this monster. La Llorona isn’t always very visible throughout the movie – I wanted to take the Jaws approach rather than, say, Freddy Krueger – but I wanted her to have this savagery that Marisol really brings to the part.”
The ’70s setting, Chaves says, was chosen partly because “the aesthetic is really cool” and practically because it’s pre-mobile phones, making investigating mysteries that bit harder. “It's an era where the characters have to talk to people and really dig. That just felt more tactile and cinematic." The producers looked to several ’70s horror classics for inspiration, not least The Changeling and Poltergeist. “It’s funny, in my first meeting with New Line, I pitched it as having this gritty Seven/Zodiac feel, but it’s got so much more of a Poltergeist vibe.”
Recently confirmed to be part of the Conjuring Universe at the film's SXSW premiere, Chaves is effusive about collaborating with horror supremo James Wan on this and the upcoming Conjuring threequel. “He’s the best! I was a fan of his for years. He’s an incredible collaborator, he just vibes with you and he has such a great sense for scares.”
The Curse Of La Llorona opens in the UK on 3 May, and in the US on 19 April. This article first appeared in our sister publication Total Film magazine. Pick up a copy now or save up to 58% on a print and digital subscription so you never miss an issue.