Trailer Park Thursday: “Escape Room” and “The Curse of La Llorona”

Happy Halloween! Now that we’ve thoroughly binged on both candy and scary movies, we’re frantically trying to figure out how we can make this feeling last all year. And right on schedule, a few new trailers for upcoming horror films hit our radar. Are these new projects going to be able to fill the jack-o’-lantern-shaped void inside of us? Or will they end up as the cinematic equivalent of stale candy corn? Let’s take a closer look:

First, we have a new offering from Adam Robitel, known mostly for writing-slash-directing found footage horror like The Taking of Deborah Logan and Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension. If you love immersive storytelling as an emerging art form, extremely literal taglines (“Find the clues or die,” anyone?), and a well-planned cinematic cash grab, then you still may not love Escape Room, which appears to be Saw meets Black Mirror meets Westworld, with a dab of The Cabin in the Woods… but not exactly in a good way. We don’t recognize the majority of the cast (save for Deborah Ann Woll, who played our favorite teenage vampire on True Blood), but it doesn’t much matter, because most of them are probably going to die anyway.

Escape Room’s greatest sin is the betrayal of its own premise. After all, real escape rooms are finite. When you confine your characters a little more, it tightens the action and heightens the tension, and the inverse is also true. Robitel should know better, too: Part of the thrall of found footage horror is its play within and outside of the frame. In an over-eagerness to toy with his prey, he’s created a world so sprawling that, ironically, the stakes feel a lot lower. Maybe the pleasure of solving all of these puzzles alongside the characters will make up for it? We’ll find out starting January 9, when Escape Room comes to a dump month near you.

Watch Now: Take it back to the old school with what some might call the “original” escape room movie: The House on Haunted Hill, available for streaming on Fandor!

For every horror movie that tries to harness the current zeitgeist, there’s one that’s mining older sources and tapping into a deeper vein. The Curse of La Llorona is one such example. La Llorona is a figure who shape-shifts slightly from story to story; the particulars change from household to household and country to country, but she has been scaring Mexican and Guatemalan children for generations — according to legend, she can be heard crying out at night for her lost children near bodies of water. But with all due respect, the L.A. river does not count.

As much as we’ve loved Linda Cardellini since Freaks and Geeks, it’s not a great sign that she can’t even pronounce “La Llorona” correctly, is it? It would be a real shame to take such a rich and storied (and truly frightening) folk tradition, uproot it from its context, and flatten it into a bunch of jumps scares, now wouldn’t it? What a wasted opportunity to tell this chilling tale in a more compelling and, frankly, responsible way, through either fidelity to its original, regional folk tradition (which means setting it in Mexico or Guatemala) or through a more abstracted, less directly appropriative specter of murderous motherhood. By doing neither, first-time feature director Michael Chaves and screenwriting team Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis fell short. It will be interesting to see how the conversation around The Curse of La Llorona evolves over the months before its mid-April release.

In case you missed it, last week’s visit to The Trailer Park, which covered two features from two exciting female directors in Karyn Kusama’s “Destroyer,” and Claire Denis’ “High Life.” And for more unapologetic Halloween geek-outs, don’t miss Fandor’s Favorite Scary Movies Part one and two and our in-depth, hard-hitting (and fairly gushing) reviews of “Halloween” and “Suspiria.”
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