We had recently shared the news that Paco Plaza (of [REC] fame) has a brand new film that – to everyone’s surprise – dropped on Netflix without warning. Netflix took a page from their own playbook with the release of Verónica, a Spanish possession horror that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017.
So, that being said, let’s get something out of the way here.
Yes, this is a Spanish film with subtitles. If you’re avoiding watching it just because you don’t like watching a movie with subtitles, I’m disappointed in you. You’re closing yourself off to a whole world of absolutely incredible horror films. I’m not trying to lecture, but seriously. You will get used to subtitles, I promise you.
Additionally, let yourself be scared! If you’re going into a film with a defiant attitude, you’re not going to actually enjoy it as much as you were hoping to. There are no awards for remaining stone-faced during a movie. Just have fun.
Plaza masterfully weaves a tale of terror with Verónica. The titular character (played by newcomer Sandra Escacena) meets with two of her friends during a total solar eclipse, taking advantage of the supercharged natural phenomenon to try and contact her recently deceased father with an Ouija board.
As this is a horror film, their seance doesn’t go as planned, and soon Verónica is plagued by suspicious and discomforting unexplained activity. She placed a call to the other side and someone – or something – answered.
As an audience, we’re drawn in by the relationship that Verónica has with her young siblings – twin sisters Lucía and Irene and little brother Antoñito. With their mother working long hours at a local restaurant, the teenaged Verónica is left in charge of caring for the children.
As we observe this bright young girl though her daily life – waking, dressing, feeding, and bathing her siblings as the primary present caregiver in the home – it’s easy to understand why she would long for a connection with her father.
She has essentially taken over the duties as a parent and – under enormous pressure to “grow up” – you can absolutely sympathize with her for wanting to be able to act as a daughter again, even for just one brief conversation with an Ouija board. She is unable to properly grieve for her father – there’s no time in her day or room for weakness in front of her siblings.
We are constantly reminded of her youth – from the oversized school uniform and braces to the band posters decorating her room. She’s not a confident, rambunctious, wild teenager. She’s a girl who is desperately trying to maintain normalcy for the sake of those around her.
Once the threat becomes more and more apparent, Verónica is dedicated to protecting her siblings. An effective and often-used horror trope is childhood isolation – that sense that the monsters are real and there’s no one there who can protect you. Verónica thrives on this.
Fans of [REC] will notice that Plaza’s Verónica shows a stylistic maturity. The camera movement is sometimes subtle, but at the climax of the film it tracks the action so deliberately that you feel like you’re part of it. These frantic finale scenes are finessed with long takes and constant movement to drive the horror forwards.
Music is also a key component. The score is dissonant and unsettling, but offset with pop hits provided by Verónica’s walkman (from her favorite band, Heroes Del Silencio). This builds atmosphere while adding a personal touch to our connection with the character.
The film builds dread in an incredible way – some scenes are so thick with tension that you feel like you could cut it with a knife.
All of the young actors are phenomenal in their roles; while Escacena does the heavy lifting as Verónica, we should definitely acknowledge the wee Iván Chavero as Antoñito. He’s absolutely adorable and steals every scene with a sweet innocence.
Also, a shout out to Consuelo Trujillo as Hermana Muerte (aka “Sister Death”) for nailing the dichotomy of a wise and good-intentioned yet terrifying nun.
Overall, Verónica is a solid film with a healthy balance of fear-inducing dread and genuine heart.