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.
The 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.
This 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.