Friday, February 19, 2021

Movie with Abe: La Llorona

La Llorona
Directed by Jayro Bustamante
Released August 6, 2020 (Shudder)

Fear comes from many different sources. Supernatural elements that bring back the undead to haunt the living are surely frightening, and make up a good deal of the cinematic horror genre. The actions of real people in life, however, can be even more terrifying since it demonstrates the disturbing capacity to do evil when infinite better choices exist. Guatemala’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature explores the intersection between the two, when the brutality of one man’s life begins to catch up with him just as death hovers near and presents itself as a new and vicious threat.

Enrique (Julio Diaz) is a former general on trial for his role in ordering the torture and killing of many Mayans years earlier. His wife Carmen (Margarita Kenéfic) and his daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz) support him in public, and struggle at home with his deteriorating memory that finds him lost and confused each night, worried that someone has broken in. The protestors who gather outside his house only add to the stress, and the arrival of a new maid, Alma (María Mercedes Coroy), further indicates that there is real reason to worry that may not merely be a figment of Enrique’s imagination.

Billed as a horror film, this is really more of a psychological thriller, one that uses the idea that something inhuman or undead might be lurking nearby to augment an already worrisome existence. Those who survived the genocide carried out by Enrique and remember the unfeeling authority with which he commanded executions will never be able to forget what they have witnessed and what they remember, and, after that time should be a distant memory for Enrique, he is finally forced to confront his own vulnerability as power slips away from him and accountability approaches, ready to hold him responsible regardless of how long it has been since his crimes.

This film has earned accolades as the best foreign film of 2020 and is among the fifteen productions on the Oscar shortlist for Best International Feature. It does speak to a national sensibility in Guatemala about the activity portrayed in this film, and while Enrique is fictional, he is based on General Efraín Ríos Montt, the dictator whose conviction was overturned in 2013. This film draws tension and suspense from its quieter moments, allowing a large, supposedly secure house to become an even scarier setting than one in which helpless victims are rounded up by armed soldiers. Its use of the title La Llorona, to reference the tale of a weeping woman mourning her drowned children, gives it added emphasis, one that complements an unsettling and intriguing narrative whose ambiguity may fulfill some more than others.


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