MOVIE REVIEW: Ghost has all the fright moves
THE CURSE OF THE WEEPING WOMAN
Two and a half stars
Director Michael Chaves
Starring Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Tony Amendola
Running time 93 minutes
Verdict A serviceable popcorn-rattler
A five century-old folk story. A skeletal figure in a bridal veil. A set of black, clawed fingernails ...
It doesn't take much to spook an audience - if a filmmaker knows how to work the smoke machine.
Produced by Australian horror-meister James Wan and It and Annabelle screenwriter Gary Dauberman, The Curse Of The Weeping Woman is fairly standard genre fare.
A standalone film set within the very bankable Conjuring Universe, it suffers in comparison to the two films Wan directed (The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2) - partly because the iconography is over-familiar, and partly because director Michael Chaves lacks his boss's flair.
But the first-time feature filmmaker gets the job done - with an efficiency that shouldn't be underestimated.
Chaves' economical use of the jump scare suggests an underlying confidence.
And he treats the ex-priest-turned-curandero's (Raymond Cruz) feeble exorcism tools - a hand-carved wooden cross, a vial of holy water, some Latin chanting - with a workman-like respect.
There's also a nicely played gag about magic tricks and Johnny Carson that simultaneously acknowledges and undercuts our cynicism.
The Curse Of The Weeping Woman's 70s setting supports this lightness of touch.
Linda Cardellini, an actor who is easy to root for, lends her Mother/Protector a self-reliance that suits the era.
The character's career as a social worker is also a good fit.
Anna Tate-Garcia's single mother status leaves her vulnerable to ambitious colleagues as well as demonic forces.
Being the offspring of a fallen police officer, Anna's plucky children (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen and Roman Christou) acquit themselves well. But as kids in peril, they don't have a lot to work with.
Patricia Velasquez's embittered, grudge-holding mother, Patricia Alvarez, is also a type.
When Anna discovers Alvarez's two sons locked in a cupboard, she takes them into protective care, despite the woman's desperate protestations. And that's when strange and terrible things start happening to Anna's own children.
Visiting the local priest, Annabelle's Father Perez (Tony Amendola), Anna hears the tale of La Llorona, aka the Weeping Woman.
According to ancient Latin American folklore, she's the ghost of a mother who lost her own children, and who now searches for others to make her own.
The Curse Of The Weeping Woman is worlds apart from a film like The Babadook, which used horror to explore some of motherhood's greatest taboos.
And there's something a little off about the filmmakers' rather perfunctory treatment of vengeful mothers - especially since, in both cases, they are hot-blooded Latinas.
But if you are looking for something to rattle your popcorn, the latest film in the Conjuring Universe will suffice.