You can’t keep a good ghost down. Not when there’s justice to be meted out.
The titular spirit, who typically wanders the seaside mourning her deceased children in Mexican folklore, becomes a powerful avenger in the hands of Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante.
In La Llorona, the vengeful ghost not only seeks retribution for the death of her offspring, but for entire villages of Guatemalan natives slaughtered and enslaved in the 1980s by General Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz), a military strongman currently on trial for genocide.
Now a delusional old paranoid, Enrique holes up in a spacious villa while outside the streets are stuffed with protestors, whose singing and chanting are a constant reminder of half-remembered atrocities.
Enrique’s sleep is troubled and he frequently sleepwalks through the house with a loaded pistol.
His steely wife Carmen (Margarita Kenefic) is determined to stand by her man, but their daughter Natalia (Sabrina de la Hoz), a doctor, is having doubts about her papa’s innocence.
With the arrival of Alma (Maria Mercedes Coroy), a beguiling Mayan maid, the stage is set and the Monteverde house is ready for its fall. Enrique is fascinated and troubled by the quiet girl with the long black hair, because she’s a dead ringer for one of his dead victims.
La Llorona is a riveting slow burner that draws substantial power from Bustamante’s steady-frame approach. Once he establishes a visually arresting tableau, he locks it down. There is almost no camera movement in the house and scenes run long with minimal dialogue.
This lack of flow effectively imprisons the viewer in the pressure cooker alongside the guilty parties, and it’s an unnerving experience.
After all, we’re not on trial here.