Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Haunting of Ill House: LA LLORONA

The haunting in Jayro Bustamante’s La Llorona (not to be confused with the decent Conjuring-verse entry based on the same ghost legend from last year) is karmic, and it's trauma. The big, dark, scary mansion that may or may not have vengeful spirits within its long corridors and dark corners belongs to an ailing Guatemalan general on trial for genocide. He’s elderly, ill, armed, and his mind is clouded. Outside, protests rage. Inside, his family and Indigenous hired help step cautiously. They’re troubled by his legacy, in a strained state as they reckon with the evil for which he was responsible, while acutely aware of the quotidian failings of a man to which they’re tied. The family is not sure how much to believe the worst, but clearly their staff does. It’s fraught. So of course there are strange sounds, eerie movements, people where they aren’t expected to be, and some in the house are more aware than others that something Wrong is here. It’s a horror movie, after all. But the haunting is born of unspeakable guilt and unbearable pain. It hangs heavy over the long, steady shots and hushed sound design, thick with political and metaphoric intent, excavating crimes, injustices of the highest order as a curse visited upon those mortal souls sick enough to carry them out. The cast of carries out this placid agitation, the kind of gnarled familial guilt where one averts eyes from the failings of an old man, only to look back when a crisis is at hand. Details — an oxygen tank, a drip of water, a new maid, a breath-holding contest — slowly accrue to the final crescendo.

In this careful, quiet simmer of a film, the palpable pain of the past ripples out into the present, working its way into cracks in the fault lines of race, class, gender, and age that spiderweb the fragile situation. The film’s perspective is often trapped in the home of this man, whose sickness was moral long before it was physical, as he stumbles and shuffles to an ending. Those keeping vigil over his last days — a queasy mixture of mourning and anticipation — are keenly ambivalent, but no less upset. Our sympathies lie with the protestors, not the man, and only sometimes his family. But Bustamante’s confident filmmaking challenges us to see with and through the art house horror trappings—the kind that come patiently in a slow drip that teases an audience with the line between reality and the paranormal—that with this tragedy in the past, the haunted ones, and the ones haunting, are his victims, and the weeping ghost deserves her dignity—and revenge. The women sitting veiled in the court room— a vision at once ghostly condemnation and corporeal witness—are the sight that lingers just as much as the maybe-spirit whose hair floats and whose wails pierce the night.

No comments:

Post a Comment