la llorona

La Llorona, director Jayro Bustamante’s new interpretation of the popular legend, is a deeply affecting ghost story. Without any gore or jump scares, its terrors become more insidious, its horrors far more personal. In this version, the troubled spirit is not the source of fear for the people she haunts. She is more like them than they wish to admit.

Set against the long aftermath of the Guatemalan civil war, La Llorona is measured, deliberate and stylized, with a subdued palette and muted background noises. The film is full of whispers, of weeping, of running water, of billowing white curtains. Alzheimer’s is suggested. Superstitions abound. The real threats are internal, no matter what happens outside. 

***

la LloronaThe story opens as General Monteverde is finally tried for his crimes against the indigenous Mayan-Ixil people during the civil war in the 1980s–burning their homes and crops, raping, killing, stealing their land for its oil. The survivors’ testimony is grim. The General is convicted of genocide. The liberating verdict is annulled by the courts.

In the chaos following his acquittal, the General and his family retreat to his compound. It is not a comfortable place any longer. All but one of his servants abandon him. Protestors mass outside the gates, demanding justice, becoming increasingly violent. The family’s lives begin unraveling under the pressure.

And then a woman, Alma, knocks at the door and is allowed to enter. With her arrival, the family’s falling apart begins in earnest. 

***

The small cast is outstanding.

Maria Mercedes Coroy portrays Alma with dreamy grace and determination, as the lost, searching soul she is. 

Sabrina De La Hoz brings a sense of constant worry as the General’s daughter Natalia. She doubts her father’s innocence, in war and in family matters.

Margarita Kenéfic is haughty and cool as Carmen Monteverde, the General’s wife and Natalia’s mother. She refuses to believe her husband committed the atrocities he is accused of, but she suspects him of other betrayals.

Ayla-Elea Hurtador is gentle as Natalia’s daughter Sara, a lonely girl who befriends the mysterious Alma and begins to learn some of her secrets.

María Telón is stoic and dedicated as the family’s remaining servant, Valeriana. She understands more of her circumstances than she lets on.

Julio Diaz plays General Enrique Monteverde as an old lion, fading but still trying to wield the power he once had. He may be slipping into dementia, but he is still dangerous.

Juan Pablo Olyslager plays the General’s bodyguard Letona with a sense of hero-worship, but an underlying kindness.

***

la LloronaThis La Llorona explores the intimate damage done under the excuse of war. The pain that the aging General Monteverde has caused to the Guatemalan people and to his own family is laid bare. While women are the primary victims of the General’s crimes and infidelities, Bustamante gives the female characters real growth and agency. They lose faith in the General. They stand up to him. They diminish him. They achieve some measure of closure for what he has done.

Bustamante presents his retelling as the tragedy it is, and makes its ghosts as real as the living characters. This La Llorona is well worth seeking out.

screaming creatures

Screaming Creatures, Sean M. Thompson’s new collection from Nictitating Books, offers up fourteen meaty tales of horror and weirdness. They often tread familiar ground, but there are enough quirks and twists to keep thing interesting.

Thompson experiments with a wide variety of narrative styles, and with horrors beyond the supernatural. His characters are prey to addiction and abuse, in addition to the monsters that wander among them. Their relationships range from the secure to the profoundly dysfunctional. They rarely find redemption, or even solid footing. Injecting real-life traumas into often over-the-top splatter adds a depth to the goings-on that drew me in.

***

“Sunny Village” begins with the reliably unsettling idea of seeing something you can’t explain and shouldn’t witness, and ends with a left turn and a lot of loose ends.

“The Cliffside Tavern” is a good, old-fashioned watery ghost story.

“Centralia” was my favorite of the bunch, with its creepy video gaming superimposed on a famously creepy setting. It had me looking over my shoulder more than once.

“3 A.M. Orphan” is a strange, Twilight Zone take on someone who was never there.

“Cat’s Claw Llc” presents an isolated office building, suave man-eaters, and a woman who accepts a very tasty job offer. Off-kilter and oddly fun.

“Make It A Double” takes on the trope of evil twins, with the addition of ghosts, alcoholism, and hippies.

“Dead Visions Review” is styled as a movie review of a disjointed, bloody film that may or may not be cinéma vérité.

“Kiss Of The Succubus” starts off as a hard-boiled detective story with demons, then veers into introducing a monster-hunting agency. This should be a novella, at least.

“Metronome” is the classic tale of a writer being destroyed by the demons in his own work. 

“The Silent Man: A Documentary” is written as a transcript, and is reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project and the found-footage genre.

“Rot Gut” is a Western, with a terrible stranger haunting the dreams of a dusty small town.

“The Blind Opera”, told in the second person, follows a dangerous video, secret government experiments, and a wealthy psychopath who has figured out how to find out what it all means.

“Cycle” uses alcoholism as the engine driving the horror along, this time in a family riddled with violence.

“Screaming Creatures” is a long, slightly disjointed musing on the state of madness and the human race, punctuated with plenty of gory violence.

***

Overall, Screaming Creatures is an entertaining ride with a few rough edges that has to potential to be more. Bloody, scary, and eerie, I think it does a fine job of engaging its readers. But while full of ambitious ideas, a few of the stories (“Kiss of the Succubus” and “Rot Gut”, in particular) feel like they end in medias res. I wish they were fully-developed novellas. If Thompson chooses to expand them, I will be more than happy to keep reading.