Madrid, 1991. A teen girl finds herself besieged by an evil supernatural force after she played Ouija with two classmates.
In the latest chapter of “What could possibly go wrong?”, we’re taken into the recent creation of Spanish director Paco Plaza (the filmmaker behind the first three installments of the REC series).
Teenaged Veronica (Sandra Escacena) and her three younger siblings – twins Lucia and Irene (Bruna Gonzalez and Claudia Placer; respectively) and little Antonito (Ivan Chavero) basically have to fend for themselves. Their mother Ana (Ana Torrent) runs her own bar/restaurant. And with the recent death of Ana’s husband and the children’s father – she works constantly. Veronica becomes the stand-in mother for her younger sibs. The children all attend a Catholic school, and on the powerful day of a full eclipse, Veronica convinces two of her friends to venture into the deepest recesses of the old school building and to play a ouija board – in an attempt to make contact with Veronica’s deceased father (therein lies the reason for my “what could possibly go wrong?” mention) Naturally, they do make contact with someone/something on the other side, but it’s not Veronica’s dad and it’s not a kind entity.
This isn’t a terribly original story. Let’s be honest. With films already in the horror pantheon – dealing with the dangers of the ouija board – either as a central conceit (Witchboard, the Ouija franchise) or as secondary (but important) plot points (The Exorcist) – we’re not covering any new ground here.
What sets Veronica apart from these referenced titles – is the unique style with which director Plaza tells his story.
There are some camera tricks here which found a smile curling up over my lips and my head nodding in absolute appreciation. Seriously. There’s a séance sequence which uses the “we’ve seen this a million times before” camera going around the circle in one shot – over and over again – building the anticipation of what’s going to show up in the next cycle. But Plaza and his DP (Pablo Rosso – the cinematographer responsible for all four of the REC films) make it feel fresh and are able to amp up the tension – until we ultimately follow a drinking glass out of the room.
My personal favorite is a shot of Veronica jumping out of bed. I won’t describe the genius here – but when you see it – you’ll perhaps gasp in pure delight as I did. And finally, a mid-level subtle shot of the apartment building where the family lives. Delicious.
Heck, most (if not all) of the technical achievements in the film are award-worthy. In fact, the film was nominated for multiple Goya Awards (the Spanish Academy Award), including Best Special Effects and Best Sound (which it won).
While the film never gets as scary as I had anticipated (based on the articles and news blurbs which have been spread far and wide since the film showed up on Netflix in late February) – there’s no shortage of engaging and spooky atmosphere. There are a number of effective “boo” moments as well.
While the film was also nominated for a Best Screenplay Goya Award – I would call the screenplay the least of the film’s accomplishments. The dialogue itself was strong and believable, but I didn’t quite have enough of Veronica’s history to satisfy my needs in that department. Sure, we can believe that she missed her dad enough to try to contact him on the other side, but there didn’t seem to be anything special about her relationship with her father when he was alive. A little more digging, perhaps some special flashbacks to highlight their incredible bond – would have been a welcome addition. As is, it feels like she plays the board, just because.
Now the relationships between the siblings – I bought every minute. It’s clear how much Veronica cares for her younger sisters and little brother. But it’s also evident that she’s resentful of her lack of freedom.
On the topic of the kids – all four child actors are magnificent. So many times in film – there will be moments (at least one) where the young actors are unable to sell a scene or a piece of dialogue. Not the case here. I really truly cared for these kids and their strong performances made for a flawless representation of a tight-knit family.
Of course, Sandra Escacena does a tremendous job in the central role – dealing with that aforementioned angst, trying to keep friends in school, attempting to keep her mother happy and her siblings safe. And what most horror actresses must be able to achieve – abject horror – she’s able to pull it off nicely. In fact, her performance here was nominated for a Goya as well – for Best New Actress.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t give an additional mention to little Ivan Chavero as Antonito. This kid is adorable and every time he appeared on-screen, I almost giggled. With his little cross-eyes and the constant adjusting of his glasses – he will immediately endear himself to any audience. And as a very young child actor – he does a pretty impressive job with some of the more difficult moments. I was reminded of the endearing Morrito (Nery Arredondo)– the youngest kid in last year’s Tigers Are Not Afraid (full review here). Both of these child actors will melt your heart.
I do have to mention that as the climax rolls around, and a few things already hinted at or properly foreshadowed earlier – are replayed. I hate this. I really do. I’m assuming that filmmakers tend to believe that audiences are far too dim to catch the connections which have been made, and so we are forced to endure a replay to fully cement the intended connection. Stop this. Please. It’s distracting and unnecessary. Give your audience a little more credit. Rant complete.
And word on the street is that Veronica is based on a true crime event in Spain from 1991 – called the Vallecas Case, but the film doesn’t officially offer up a “based on a true story” title card.
The film was also nominated for several other 2018 Goya Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Plaza and Best Original Score.
With an excellent ensemble cast of young actors, fantastic cinematography and solid production values, Veronica doesn’t get under your skin as expected, but it’s still enjoyable and stylish story-telling.
But is it “The scariest movie ever made” as so much recent hype has claimed? No. Not even close.
Veronica is now available on Netflix.