La Llorona deals with three generations of a wealthy family who are forced to confront the fact that Grandpa really is a genocidal murderer, no matter what he says. So why is the film being pitched as a horror and supernatural movie? There’s a good reason.

Director Jayro Bustamante wanted to make a film about a subject that the vast majority of non-indigenous Guatemalans would rather ignore or even deny: the massacre of more than 30,000 Mayan peasants by the Guatemalan military that peaked in the early 1980s. So he studied box-office figures and determined that Guatemalan movie-goers like super-heroes, horror stories and folklore legends. For La Llorona, he passed on the super-heroes, but incorporated the horror and folklore.

In La Llorona General Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz) is convicted of the genocidal murders of indigenous Guatemalans, and he retreats to his urban estate. Naturally, his conviction is overturned on a “technicality.” However, every day, a crowd of survivors and their supporters gather outside the house where he lives with his extended family and a flock of servants, chanting and calling for justice. The servants all quit, except for the head housekeeper and an armed bodyguard. Meanwhile, Enrique is having nightmares and visions that are rooted in the legend of La Llorona, The Weeping Woman, which has many interpretations in different cultures ranging from South America to the southwestern United States. She is used as a sort of bogeyman to scare unruly children. “If you don’t behave, La Llorona will get you.” For the film, she appears in the mysterious form of the new housekeeper, Alma (“The Spirit” in Spanish), played by María Mercedes Coroy.

Frankly, despite the emphasis on the supernatural, what is most interesting about La Llorona is the reaction of the female members of the family, Enrique’s wife, his daughter and his granddaughter. Who wants to believe that their husband, their father or their grandfather is not just seeing spirits and hallucinating, but has actually committed horrific crimes?

María Mercedes Coroy recalls her grandmother telling her that when the army came to their town, she had to hide and “cry in silence.” With La Llorona, Mercedes wanted to “cry very loud and be listened to by all the world.”

As for Bustamante, who was raised in a mixed family, it is important that “at least in fiction, we can have justice because we never had justice about that subject [in Guatemala].”