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SXSW: James Wan's secret to shared universes at The Curse of La Llorona world premiere

By Bill Watters & Christian Long

It was another star-studded red carpet at the SXSW Festival as cast and crew descended on the Paramount Theater in Austin to celebrate the world premiere of horror auteur James Wan's The Curse of La Llorona. New Line Cinema was dialing the atmosphere to 11 by including appropriate mood-setting, including conducting a Limpia (purifying the area of evil with an egg), incense, an altar, and a spiritual cleansing.

One recurring question around The Curse of La Llorona was whether or not it's part of the wider Conjuring franchise, the start of an entirely new franchise, or a stand-alone feature. SYFY WIRE was on hand on the carpet to try to find out where the film would land and how Wan had guided the production.

The legend of La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) is a recurring figure in Latin American mythology. She is the ghost of a scorned woman who had drowned her children in a river, and now appears as an evil spirit causing ill to those who encounter her.

Freshman feature director Michael Chaves spoke of how he was intimidated being in the director's chair for the first time, but that the support of Wan and the whole production team and their love for the horror genre helped support his efforts. "Everybody [on the team] loves scary movies," he said, "everybody has these same cultural touchstones. For everyone, you're trying to get back to that first feeling of being scared." 

Raymond Cruz (Breaking Bad), plays exorcist Rafael Olvera spoke about how he was thrilled to have the opportunity to bring the legend of La Llorona to a wider audience, "I was more intrigued by the idea of bringing this legendary character in Mexican culture to bring it to the screen, and give people that experience who never even heard of her. She's our Frankenstein."

Linda Cardellini (Mad Men) and stressed her fondness of the message of the strength of the women in the film. "A lot of times you see a cast with four men and one female, but here there's three really strong female parts and one male. That, to me, is special about horror."  

The film's writing team Tobias Iaconis and Mikki Daughtry, who also had their first film, Five Feet Apart open this weekend waxed on their second SXSW premiere. "It is kind of magical, and you know it, and you know you're watching it happen, but when it does... it's a little numbing really, " Daughtry said. Watching the actors breathe life into the characters they'd written was amazing, "We couldn't be happier writers."

Producer James Wan, whose last project was directing DC's Aquaman, spoke about how he will tend to vacillate between wanting to work on big productions and small ones. "When I'm making my big films, I want to go back and make a small film again. But when I'm making a small one, I want to go back and do a big one. It's nice to be able to shift from something as big as Aquaman to something like this that's more intimate." 

When asked directly about whether the film is part of a larger whole, Wan replied, "For me, it's about creating a world and characters that people like. And so, within that world, I always fell like two hours isn't enough to tell all the stories I want to tell in that world. When I'm fortunate enough that a film works, I'll let the financiers know that there's other stories I'd like to tell."

That was the closest answer we received on the carpet on the question of the relationship of La Llorona to the larger word of The Conjuring. While the cast, writers, and producers seemed to talk around the question, but when the SXSW MC took the stage, he introduced The Curse of La Llorona as "the latest in The Conjuring universe." It seems they hadn't gotten the memo to keep it on the QT. 

Perhaps as the most unique approach to trying to change the subject (or at least distract the audience from what had just been said), the L.A.-based Botanica El Indio took the stage to conduct a spiritual cleansing. He told the waiting audience, who had all been given red handkerchiefs as part of the ceremony, "I don’t want you to take anything home from the movie. It’s very scary." 

One thing is always certain, at SXSW, the experiences will always be memorable.

You can catch The Curse of La Llorona when it hits theaters on April 19th. Until then, be sure to check out all of SYFY WIRE's extensive SXSW coverage here