I grew up a first-generation American in the Southwestern part of the United States, namely New Mexico. My family is from Mexico, and I spent several summers there helping my uncle with his farm. It was in Mexico that I first heard the legend of the llorona, the wailing banshee. Later, I heard variations of the story from people in New Mexico.
There are countless variations of the llorona, but the core story is that of a woman who for some reason drowns her own child or children. When she dies (or is killed), she becomes a tormented spirit who is always searching for her children. The llorona will take any child and make it her own, drowning it so that she can possess it in the afterlife. When this fails, she grows even more desperate and despondent, searching once again for yet another child.
With such a frightening and alluring piece of folklore available to filmmakers, it was only a matter of time before the llorona made it to the big screen. Sadly, 2007’s The Cry does not even come close to doing this legend justice. As much as I wanted this movie to succeed, I simply found The Cry a disappointment.
The story of The Cry takes place in New York City, where the long-dead child of the llorona (played by Robert Quintana Jr.) has been reincarnated. Because of this, the llorona begins to manifest itself in the Hispanic part of Harlem, where it begins to systematically kill off children by possessing their mothers. As more and more children disappear only to be found dead later, a couple of detectives, Alex Scott (Christian Camargo) and Sergio Perez (Carlos Leon) begin to unravel the mystery, helped along by a curandera by the name of Gloria (Miriam Colon). Detective Scott is hampered in his investigation by his own encounter with the llorona, who several years ago possessed his wife and killed his own son. Now Scott, with Perez’ capable assistance, must help Maria (Adriana Dominguez) stop the llorona from taking her son.
Co-written and directed by Bernadine Santistevan, The Cry tells the llorona’s story more in keeping with the Aztec legend (the story of the Malinche) than some of the modern variations. In some ways, this tale is more like the legend of Lilith, who curses mothers with child. Although not a bad approach to take, I find that other variations of the story would have made for a better film. For example, there is a story of the llorona as a poor girl seduced by a rich man (perhaps even the devil). She becomes pregnant, but the man abandons her. Shunned by her people, she tries to raise the child on her own but fails, ultimately drowning the poor baby. Such strong source material would make for a very dramatic opening, no?
The principal problem with The Cry is not really the story but rather in how it is told. Santistevan uses a slick, stylized approach to tell the tale, relying on camera effects and trick photography to evoke a sense of tension and horror. The script on film relies a little too much on exposition through character rather than focusing on events themselves, and “internationalizing” the legend destroys any chance of establishing an intimate, frightening storyline. Santistevan has an interest in Japanese horror, given her approach here. However, the tale does not lend itself to this approach, and it shows.
There is also a lack of emphasis on characterization. Although there is some empathy for Scott’s character as a scarred father who has lost his own child, there is no real payoff at the movie’s end. We also learn very little of Maria and her son, so that we really don’t care very much for their fate. And most importantly, we learn very little about the llorona herself. Thus, the story’s antagonist is simply a supernatural creature, instead of a scarred woman whose anger is tempered by her love.
What is really frustrating to me is that Santistevan was born and raised in northern New Mexico. Indeed, parts of The Cry were filmed in Taos, New Mexico! However, Santistevan fails to capture the beauty and essence of the Land of Enchantment, instead moving her story to New York of all places. Moreover, Santistevan fails to capture the more frightening facets of the llorona legend, instead making her creation more of a supernatural bogeywoman with a wicked streak.
The movie does have a good soundtrack, with the lead song (a traditional but modernized interpretation) “La Llorona” a haunting tribute to the legend. All the actors work hard to interpret what they are given, but it is obvious sometimes that they are having difficulty with the lack of material. The movie’s coda is also one hell of a groaner and really cheapens it.
As much as it pains me, I cannot recommend The Cry. Most viewers will find the movie rather slow and meandering. Those who know the legend of the llorona will be frustrated by its interpretation here. Even as adults, the legend of this crying woman remains a potent and alluring story. It is unfortunate that The Cry does not bring this story to life on the big screen.