Dir: Jayro Bustamante
In present day Guatemala, former general Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz) is on trial for genocide he is alleged to have overseen thirty years prior. As the trial comes to an end, and increasingly after a controversial decision prompts protests outside his family home and a new maid arrives on the same day, he becomes convinced that he can hear a weeping woman in the house during the night. The family think he may be imagining things because of his dementia, but he believes it is the vengeful La Llorona.
Doing a little reading around the film, it is clear that it takes many of its cues from fact, with the element of the trial and how it works out based quite closely on the case of Guatemala’s former dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt. Knowing this, the reckoning with genocide becomes much more than simply window dressing for a horror movie. History hangs over the film, lending its slow-building horror and tension extra weight and power.
Despite this heavy subject matter in the background, director Jayro Bustamante is definitely having fun here. Over and over, he allows the potential for the film to take a very typical genre route, setting up the cliche images of the haunting movie, but over and over again he undermines these banal conventions. Sometimes it is simply in the timing, the fact that a slow build of creeping around the dark house doesn’t lead to, for instance, a cut to an apparition screaming in our faces, but he often directly defuses the images. One great moment has the new maid, Alma (María Mercedes Coroy) her long hair being blown across her face by an unseen force (I think the shot is also very slightly slowed down), then Enrique’s granddaughter steps into frame, and we see she’s drying Alma’s hair. It’s funny, and yet the original image still feels a little creepy, and this is a trick Bustamante manages to repeat several times.
The horror elements of the film are slow, ominous and creepingly effective, growing more so as they become ever more entwined with the history and as we see figures from Enrique’s family in different roles within the flashbacks, likely as a way of underlining their complicity, even if their role wasn’t active. It further defies convention by using no CGI, or even any overt ‘scares’ to effect its horror.
The legend of the weeping woman was, earlier this year, the basis for a weakly received entry in the ongoing series of Conjuring universe films. If you’re looking for the same sort of pop up book boo scares, you’ll probably be disappointed in this. For me though, this is one of the more provocative and interesting horror films of the year, reckoning with real monsters through a legendary one.