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While it hasn’t been advertised as such, Michael Chaves’ The Curse Of La Llorona is most definitely a part of The Conjuring Universe. Its posters may only say “From The Producers Of…” instead of referring to it as the next chapter in the franchise (as was the case for both Annabelle: Creation and The Nun), but its actual connection is very clear – specifically through the return of Tony Amendola's Father Perez from the original Annabelle. Given the popularity of the brand, this might strike some as odd, but there arguably is a good reason for it: it’s the first non-Conjuring title that’s neither a direct spin-off nor a sequel to a direct spin-off.
Simply put, the film doesn’t fit in with the same development strategy that has established The Conjuring Universe to date. The reason why John Leonetti’s Annabelle and its follow-ups exist is because of the immense popularity the titular doll earned from her small part in James Wan’s original The Conjuring; and Corin Hardy’s The Nun got the greenlight because of the response to the habit-sporting demon from Wan’s The Conjuring 2. The Curse Of La Llorona, meanwhile, has roots in urban legend, but no actual connection to the other movies beyond Father Perez’s small role. It’s a surprising move for sure – but it’s also hard to say if it’s a good or bad one for the future of the franchise.
Certainly the biggest positive featured in this development is the increased potential for more diverse storytelling. As successful as The Conjuring Universe movies have been, the limitations present in its choices thus far are pretty obvious, as the “spin-off only” idea does put filmmakers in a box of a certain design. Every new property has to not only follow certain rules previously established by different writers and directors, but there is also a certain expectation for a degree of narrative dovetailing that basically forces every story to end in a specific place that matches up with a previous title.
To his credit, Gary Dauberman – who wrote the scripts for Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, The Nun, and the upcoming Annabelle Comes Home (which he’s also directing) – has made this work for the most part, but the creative freedom offered by the Curse Of La Llorona approach is clear. While it’s cool that Father Perez makes his second big screen appearance, it’s really more of an Easter egg than anything, and everything else about the movie is able to really do whatever it wants – including establishing the “rules” for its eponymous evil spirit and how it concludes the arcs for its characters.
Following the release of The Curse Of La Llorona, really any horror film that shares The Conjuring Universe’s perspectives on “good” and “evil” and approach to the supernatural could arguably be included in the larger continuity – and that could lead the franchise in a lot of new and interesting directions.
Where this becomes a drawback and potential hazard for the brand, however, is the subject of identity and specific definition. Since 2013, the core of The Conjuring Universe has been Ed and Loraine Warren – the protagonists played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga based on the real life demonologist duo. Albeit very loosely, the films in the franchise have to this point been based on the legends surrounding their exploits, and have always tied back to them in one way or another.
With The Curse Of La Llorona now being an exception, it raises an important question: what is The Conjuring Universe really about? If stories aren’t specifically expanding on the myths and terrors that the Warrens personally experience, does that mean that the franchise will eventually develop into being simply a collection of titles that share a genre and maybe the occasional single character? That’s far less interesting, and could eventually dilute the whole enterprise into nothingness.
How things move forward from this point will definitely be interesting. As of right now there are seemingly only spin-offs and sequels in development – including the aforementioned Annabelle Comes Home, The Conjuring 3, The Nun 2, and The Crooked Man – but given the way The Curse Of La Llorona was promoted it’s possible any horror title currently being developed by Warner Bros. has the potential to be brought into the continuity. Ultimately it may be the audience’s response to the new release that determines everything, and you can be sure that we’ll be keeping a close eye on it.