La Llorona Gives Sundance Audiences a Chilling View into The Mayan Genocide in Guatemala

I definitely had a preconceived notion of what the story line of this film was going to be because I saw the American horror movie, “La Llorona,” that came out last year. However, this version of “La Llorona” is a whole different telling of the folklore.

Traditionally, La Llorona is a myth that’s used as a way to control women’s virtue. It’s a horrific tale of a mother who is damned by the unspeakable dark acts she commits, driven by her own jealousy and rage.

In Latin American folklore, specifically Mexican, La Llorona (pronounced [la ʝoˈɾona]; “The Weeping Woman” or “the Cryer”) is one of the most famous oral legends. The lore states a woman was unloved by her husband and her husband loved their two sons instead of her. She caught her husband with another woman and drowned her sons in a river. Out of grief and anger she then drowned herself. She was refused entry to heaven until she found the souls of her two sons. She cries and wails and takes children and drowns them in the river she and her sons drowned in. The legend represents La Llorona as a person or ghost.

– Wikipedia

From the trailer of this film, I was expecting this version to be an event darker telling of the La Llorona mythology. However, what I actually got was very unexpected. This film is a morality play in its truest sense.

I’ve never seen such a powerful and masterfully woven political commentary. I admit that Guatemala isn’t a country that I know much about and I didn’t know anything about the genocide that had gone on during the government’s anti-insurgency efforts.

“The problem in Guatemala is that, unlike other Latin American countries, the army has not yet recognized the big crimes committed and, at the same time, it holds on to an incredible level of control over civil society, including its judicial apparatus.”

Andrea Rizzi (El País, 2005)

From the film’s opening shots you’re hit with the obvious racial and class divide. You’re introduced to the indigenous staff who are treated with vehement disdain by the white matriarch. Immediately, you get a sense that there is more feeding this hatred than the obvious and you are instantly drawn into wanting to find out where is this coming from.

When you learn the patriarch of the household is a notorious general on trial for genocide, it all comes into place. From the beginning of the film he is being plagued in the night with sounds of a woman crying. His family thinks he’s going insane, cracking under the pressures of the trial.

However, his staff knows that there are forces out there that are beyond our understanding and they know what’s coming isn’t something they plan to stick around for.

I really enjoyed this film. It was brilliantly shot. Much of the story is told using visual tones that create an ominous feel. The film also uses flash backs in a most unique way, through spiritual possession. When the general’s wife falls asleep she starts to relive the horrors her husband inflicted. You are snapped back into the past without even leaving the present. Magnificent!

I don’t want to give too much away because I want everyone to go see this film. It’s a painful watch that will stretch you and make you question how human beings can be so brutal to other human beings. Beyond that though, this film will also make you quest what does it mean to get justice?

This film was excellent and I highly recommend that you go and see it. You will not only learn about a very important piece of world history but you will also have a mind-bending thrill ride at the same time.


When I was a boy, the idea of hearing the cry of La Llorona during the night terrified me. I pictured her to be a demonic soul who, because of her sins, was condemned to lament and wander the world. I was told that hearing her was a sign that she knew I too deserved punishment. What surprises me now is the power that she still has in Guatemala and in other Latin American countries. Despite knowing it is nothing more than a moralist myth for mandating the behavior of women, a large part of the population believes in her existence. The cry of guilt, of moralism and of a chauvinist society still echoes in our ears.
Creating a new version of La Llorona is the perfect opportunity to try to change those stigmas that are etched into our cultural inheritance. At the same time, the psychological suspense that goes along with the character allows me to recount Guatemala’s recent, dark history to a national audience that is generally more interested in purely commercial entertainment movies. Like in all beginnings, films that address true events of a painful history are classified as bad publicity for a country.

Taking a land—or a people like the Guatemalan one that has lamented so much—and comparing it to this myth seems more than natural to me. It was thus also easy for me to justify using the horror genre to talk about the bloodiest former dictator of Latin America.

The Guatemalan genocide, Maya(n) genocide, or Silent Holocaust refers to the massacre of Maya civilians during the Guatemalan military government’s counterinsurgency operations. Massacres, forced disappearances, torture and summary executions of guerrillas and especially civilian collaborators at the hands of US-backed security forces had been widespread since 1965 and was a longstanding policy of the military regime, which US officials were aware of. A report from 1984 discussed “the murder of thousands by a military government that maintains its authority by terror.” Human Rights Watch has described “extraordinarily cruel” actions by the armed forces, mostly against unarmed civilians.

– Wikipedia

This film mixes together the story of the killings during the armed conflict in Guatemala, former president Efraím Ríos Montt being condemned for genocide and seeing it annulled, the Sepur Zarco case of crimes against humanity, the domestic and sexual slavery of native women, misogyny, classism, religiosity, mysticism and magic realism. All these ingredients create an amalgamation of suspense and terror that surpass the legend itself.

I needed to captivate interest internationally, but above all that of my people, and so I began this journey by going back to my childhood fears, to my new fears as an adult and my interest in storytelling. A cinematographic way of denouncing, all under the guise of entertainment, without ever losing sight of universally recognized auteur cinema.

– Jayro Bustamante


YEAR 2019
CATEGORY Spotlight
COUNTRY Guatemala/France
RUN TIME 96 min
SUBTITLES Yes with English subtitles
Director: Jayro Bustamante
Screenwriters: Jayro Bustamante, Lisandro Sánchez
Producers: Jayro Bustamante, Gustavo Matheu, Georges Renand, Marina Peralta
Music: Pascual Reyes
Music Supervisor: Herminio Gutiérrez
Sound Design: Eduardo Cáceres
Cinematographer: Nicolás Wong
Visual Effects: Franz Vaclav
Production Design: Sebastián Muñoz
Editors: Jayro Bustamante, Gustavo Matheu
Principal Cast: María Mercedes Coroy, Margarita Kénefic, Sabrina De La Hoz, Julio Diaz

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