Horror

La Llorona Screams into the Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray Review]


La Llorona was one of the best films of 2020. Director/co-writer Jayro Bustamante’s story follows the family of General Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz). He’s a military leader on trial for committing genocide against the Maya-Ixil people in the 1980s. His wife Carmen (Margarita Kenéfic), daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz), and granddaughter Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado) are all trapped in a house with him as protestors line the streets outside. The situation is tense, and General Monteverde is losing his mind, literally. When he hears crying in the night, he nearly shoots his wife. The house’s staff leave in mass after the incident.

The only person willing to replace them, Alma (María Mercedes Coroy), arrives in a striking scene. Coroy’s performance is fascinating, threading the line between being an aloof human and a supernatural being. If there’s a La Llorona in the film outside of the crowd outside’s constant wails, it’s Alma, but Bustmante and his screenwriting partner Lisandro Sanchez lean into ambiguity. La Llorona never makes it clear whether Alma is a supernatural being manifested by the Monteverdes’ guilt, or the guilt itself is eating away at their collective psyche.

Protestors Outside of the Monteverde Estate

Magical or not, guilt is the heart of the film. La Llorona’s characters frequently question aloud why the spirits are harming the innocents in General Monteverde’s house, while flashbacks show viewers how Monteverde and his army treated innocents.

All of that ambiguity makes La Llorona an excellent film, well-deserving of being archived in the Criterion Collection. You can read my full review here. 

This new release of La Llorona—along with a “2K digital master, approved by director Jayro Bustamante, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray,” a trailer, and “New English subtitle translation”—includes two major digital supplements and an essay. The first digital supplement is a brand new interview with Bustamante. He starts out giving more details about the Mayan Ixil and the dictator who inspired the film. Later he talks about his general influences from childhood to film school and his specific influences while making La Llorona. It’s certainly worth watching if you enjoy the film or you aspire to create features of your own.

The other video supplement is “The Cries of the Wounded People.” It’s a documentary from Bustamante’s production company, La Casa de Producción, about the making of La Llorona. While Bustamante echoes many of the thoughts he shares in the interview, the rest of the cast and the crew offer new perspectives. Hearing the production team talking about some of the decisions they made—how the costume designer used different fabrics throughout the picture to externalize the character’s internal changes, for example—is fascinating. There’s also a very fun segment where cast members share their own experiences with La Llorona.

“Turning Horror Into Light,” an essay by Francisco Goldman, rounds out the package. It’s a nice touch because it adds a perspective that isn’t Bustamante’s to help viewers interpret the picture. Goldman does wonderful work contextualizing La Llorona in Latin American magical realist literature as well as within the history of Guatemala.

La Llorona is an excellent film and this Criterion Blu-ray—available October 18, 2022—is must own.

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