Spoilers for The Curse of La Llorona below.
Inspired by the Mexican folktale, The Curse of La Llorona lives in the same universe as The Conjuring (thanks to a clever nod to the franchise's demonic doll Annabelle). This film is cut from the same cloth as producer James Wan's previous movies: It features a terrifying, otherworldly entity — in this case, the titular "weeping woman" in a white dress — as well as powerful, yet vulnerable women who will do anything to stop it. (Lorraine Warren, portrayed in The Conjuring by Vera Farmiga, could certainly have given the women of La Llorona a few tips on beating a demon at its own game.)
In separate phone interviews, I spoke with Cardellini and Velásquez about the new film, their experiences with the supernatural, and why they're passionate about the horror genre.
Refinery29: What did you know about the legend of La Llorona before signing on to the project?
Patricia Velásquez: "I’m Venezuelan, but I grew up in Mexico. From the time I was five years old, people would tell me I had to listen to my parents, or else La Llorona would come get me. She’s an entity for us — she’s not a story, she’s not a legend, she’s very real. It doesn’t matter what part of the Hispanic countries you live in, we all believe in La Llorona. That’s how parents get you to do what they want you to do. It keeps you very entertained! When you’re older, you still believe in her, and she doesn’t stay in Mexico or Venezuela — she goes with you."
"I was impressed with how respectful the script was in relation to La Llorona, our culture, and what she means to us. I almost feel like [La Llorona] chose me to make sure that the movie was done with respect."
Linda Cardellini: "I had not heard this story before, but when I started looking at the imagery of the woman weeping in this white outfit, that looked very familiar to me. It was actually good for me, because my character is an outsider, and trying to figure out the story through her eyes, that’s really what creates the terror for her. She walks into something she doesn’t really know anything about and [inadvertently] ruins Patricia’s life, and the lives of her children by thinking she’s doing the right thing [and letting her kids out of the closet where Patricia has them trapped.] Anna's ignorance creates the horror for her. The road to hell can be paved with good intentions. Patricia has something under control, and she may have been able to avoid La Llorona’s curse had Anna not interrupted."
Why do you think mothers are often the focal point of horror films?
PV: "When you’re a mom and you have children, that can be the strongest love, the strongest emotions. How far will you go to fight for your children?"
LC: "I think someone preying upon children is terrifying, because they are so innocent and vulnerable. The idea of protecting them at any cost comes very naturally to the mother figure. A mother is a great adversary for whatever dark spirit, because she’s going to do anything in her power not to let you have her children. As for Anna, I loved that she wasn’t attached to a man in the story, that her character didn’t hinge on a man’s story. She is trying to raise her kids, and take care of other people’s kids as a social worker."
Why do you think people are still going to see horror movies, now more than ever? Are you fans of the genre?
PV: "I watched The Exorcist when I was younger and Jaws, and after that, I was like ‘I don’t want to suffer! There’s too much craziness in the world, I don’t want to be tortured at the movies.’ But I have to say, seeing The Curse of La Llorona in the theater with an audience, and experiencing it as a member of a community, it made me understand why horror movies keep growing, and growing, and why it’s one of the only genres where people still go to the movie theaters. I was sitting there, and everybody was screaming and laughing. Humans weren’t born to be left alone. We are members of communities. I loved the experience so much of going to see this horror film in the theater, and now I’m hooked."
LC: "I think it’s really fun to go see a horror film in a theater. There are so few things that get us to the theater anymore. We watched this movie at SXSW with an audience and got to hear them scream and laugh and yell, and talk to the screen and tell people not to go in there. That’s what’s so fun about going to see a scary movie. It takes you outside of yourself. All of the things you’re afraid of in the world, that’s realistic, but when you go see something in the theater, it takes you out of your everyday fears."
Did you have any supernatural experiences while filming the movie?
PV: "Everybody had a supernatural experience. There was definitely an idea of someone being on set with you, at all times. For me, I had an experience with La Llorona the night before we started shooting.
"I do this exercise before I start a project where I write this almost prayer before I go to sleep, that says ‘Dear inner self, if it is your will, please reveal the struggle of my character in my dream tonight, so I can get closer to you.’ In this case, it was [my character] Patricia. I did that, and that night, I got woken up by this horrible noise — between a scream and a howl and a cry. I have never heard such a thing, I was so scared. I went to my daughter’s room, and on my way I hit my shoulder and hurt my knee. My daughter woke up from the noise. She goes, ‘Mama?’ I go back to my room and start cleaning up the blood, and was shaking and so scared.
"I didn’t know what it was or how I could produce in my head such a noise. Then I look to my left and saw my note. And I realized: I had heard La Llorona. It was so scary, but at the same time, I was like ‘Oh, I get it now. I understand her pain, and I understand her desperation.’ The desperation of me trying to get to my daughter’s room, and getting hurt along the way, not knowing if my daughter was safe — it was such strong [emotions.] I went to work the next day and I was ready."
LC: "We went to SXSW, and we were in an old hotel. I used the ladies room, and in the room there was this big clawfoot tub, that looks just like the one in the movie. While I was in there, the lights were flickering. I asked everyone if they noticed the lights flickering, but they didn’t.
"After the screening, at two or three in the morning, I went to the other hotel I was staying at. I was up late because we screened the film late. I heard a door slam, so loud. I thought it could only have come from my room. I looked around, and no one was there. I had an attached sitting room, so I went in there, turned on all the lights, and left the door [to the bedroom] open about six inches, so I could go to sleep but [see the light from the other room.] As soon as I turned my back to get back in bed, the door slammed shut. It terrified me. I’m not really one of those people that believes in that kind of stuff, but that night I was convinced. The curtains started moving at one point."
Check out the trailer for The Curse of La Llorona below.
The Curse of La Llorona hits theaters April 19.