With New Line Cinema’s upcoming film (released by Warner Bros. Pictures) The Curse of the Weeping Woman set to hit theatres on 19th April 2019, director Michael Chaves chats with us about his inspiration behind the film and the process of making it.
The Curse of the Weeping Woman is an interesting mix of popular folklore and hair-raising jump scares. Was it challenging to achieve the right balance between staying true to the original story and the cinematic aspects of horror?
Personally, I’m a huge fan of folklore and with this particular story of La Llorona or the Weeping Woman, the connection is personal. I grew up in Southern California, and I remember my parents telling me this story as a kid, and it’s amazing that the legend has endured for over 200 years, still capturing our imagination! And in that also lies the biggest challenge with creating a film about this story. It is like an oral tradition, passed down from generation to generation, and as a result, there’s no one definitive version which is put down in black and white as the ‘original text’. There are hundreds of different versions, with so many permutations and combinations when it comes to the regions of origin, the minute details of the legend and so on. And of course, the goal was also to keep in mind all these aspects and show a really compelling scary story about this woman who is out to get kids. So it was a challenge for sure, but I think it turned out just fine.
The film is about a family in Los Angeles, and is set in the 1970s. Why this location, and this period?
Well, for the location, we considered multiple locations, but finally, we froze on Los Angeles. And a big part of the reason is the Los Angeles River. You see, the river is a very prominent feature in the myth of the Weeping Woman – it is part of her tragedy, it’s also where kids are warned not to venture and so on. Now, the Los Angeles River is not your classic scary river in the woods, as it’s got this modern character to it. We thought that this could be a really interesting juxtaposition if we could transport the Weeping Woman, who is from this really old legend to the unique urban setting of the Los Angeles River.
As for choosing the 70s as the period in which the movie is set, the idea was to take the story to a pre-internet, pre-smart-phone era. With any horror film, it adds to the suspense and the thrill if there’s uncertainty about what exactly is happening. In 2019, if you see scary things happening around you, you just whip out your smart phone and the internet tells you what is happening. I feel that that aspect of the characters’ uncertainty is critical to any horror story, because the fear of not knowing adds a nice tension to the story.
How did you and your team research this legend for the film?
In the research phase, it came down to interviewing different people and understanding their versions. The whole process was really wonderful, with different perspectives coming to the fore. The narrative kept changing based on who the respondents had heard it from, the period and region they had first come across it in, and so on. In a way, this myth has not only stood the test of time, but it has now become almost a tradition in itself!
With respect to the cast, you were working with child actors, and talented as they are, was it tougher to work with them and get them to act and emote exactly the way you wanted?
I think the entire cast did a superb job, including the child actors! I personally believe that we are more easily scared when we are little and we grow more rational as we grow up. So we are really at our most vulnerable when we are kids and hence more likely to believe in legends and myths such as that of the Weeping Woman. That’s probably why it wasn’t very difficult to work with the kids, because they were already very invested in the story. Of course, they are extremely talented actors to begin with, which made my job infinitely easier! Getting the right cast can make or break the film, and if you do get the right cast – as I did – the director’s job becomes much easier!
Apart from The Curse of the Weeping Woman, you have directed a short film called The Maiden and will also be directing The Conjuring 3, both of which are horror films. What draw you to this genre?
For me, it’s the viewers’ experience of watching horror films that I find fascinating. Today, we have a lot of great content that you can catch on your laptop, tablet or even phone, but watching a horror film in the movie theatre is a really rewarding experience for viewers. I grew up watching horror movies in the theatre, and absolutely loved it! It’s almost as though you’re trapped in that space, with all the atmospherics and the darkness, with no scope for escape – trust me I tried! That aspect really appeals to me, the overall experience of watching a scary movie.
Another thing about horror is that it is best enjoyed with a group of people, going through all the anticipation and the scares together. In that sense, it’s a departure from content which you view on your own, on-the-go. With a scary story, it’s a completely different experience watching it in a group, and everyone is fully committed to what is happening on screen. That’s what makes this genre special to me.
The Curse of the Weeping Woman releases in theatres on April 19th 2019 in English, Hindi, Tamil & Telugu. Also in IMAX.