Director: Paco Plaza
Writer: Paco Plaza, Fernando Navarro
Producer: Enrique Lopez Lavigne
Stars: Sandra Escacena, Claudia Placer, Bruna Gonzalez, Ivan Chavero, Ana Torrent, Consuelo Trujillo, Angela Fabian, Carla Campra, Chema Adeva
A teenage girl must protect her younger siblings after inadvertently summoning a malevolent spirit with a Ouija board.
Genre entertainment needs another demonic possession movie about as much as it needs another film featuring a Ouija board. Paco Plaza of “[REC]” (review here) fame faces few fears when it comes to treading tired territory however. The creative filmmaker knows familiarity can be overcome by craftsmanship, which is how he attacks two tropes with one stone using the atmospheric chills of “Veronica.”
Put upon to essentially raise her three younger siblings while single mother Ana works endless hours, Veronica desperately deserves a glimmer of the better life that once was. So it is that the 15-year-old decides to try contacting her dead father with a little help from a friend as well as a spirit board.
Of course, using a Ouija board in a horror movie never turns out to be a good idea. Using a Ouija board during a rare solar eclipse turns out to be even worse. You just know paranormal activity is really going to hit the fan when someone bleeds on the board, it bursts into flames, and suddenly breaks in half.
This sequence of ominous portents sets Veronica down a terrifying trail of nightmares, noises, and dark shapes haunting her family’s cramped apartment. While fighting against the figure seemingly infiltrating her imagination, Veronica must find a way to protect her brother and sisters, as this shadowy entity intends for all four children to supernaturally suffer.
Let’s address first things in this fifth paragraph. “Veronica” bases its tale on a “true story,” which, should you be curious, can be dug up by Googling Estefania Gutierrez Lazaro. As Veronica does, Estefania reportedly conducted a séance with friends at school. Some time later, she mysteriously died. What makes Estefania’s case different from others is that law enforcement investigators corroborated her parents’ claims of paranormal activity plaguing their home between the séance and Estefania’s death. Whether or not the two events were actually related is for the film to fictionalize, which it does.
Even though Estefania’s occult activity dates to November 1990, “Veronica” takes place in June 1991. What’s additionally odd about this is that the film uses a calendar from 1986 or 1997, because its date stamps and corresponding weekdays don’t match. For instance, text identifies June 13th, 1991 as a Friday, while in reality it was a Thursday. Liberties taken to change names and events I understand. I can’t fathom what the reasoning is to fudge minor details only to get them wrong anyway.
If you’re someone who uses the phrase “doesn’t bring anything new to the table” to describe a movie that can be appreciated in spite of being derivative, you’ll certainly say that here. “Veronica” commits a number of common fright film sins, including unnecessarily opening on its ending, featuring a spookily blind nun straight off the poster for “The Devil Inside” (review here), and having a television turn on by itself along with a little boy speaking to an unseen presence.
In place of originality, “Veronica” instead brings low-key creepiness in the form of careful cinematic style. Aspiring horror filmmakers can look to the movie for textbook examples of effectively lit sets, precisely positioned camera movements, and well-timed cuts meant to maximize macabre mood. Shaped a lot like a James Wan film, except slower and with a slimmer story, “Veronica” induces unease using subtly suggestive visual storytelling.
One bit inventively scores a creeping-through-the-house sequence to music from a throwback flick playing on TV. Slow-motion sees smart use in a scene where Veronica walks forward while all background action moves in reverse. A commercial jingle used to alleviate tension with a comedic snicker similarly slips in at exactly the right moment. “Veronica’s” little touches avoid sparking a spotlight on themselves, adding only enough oddness to understate eeriness.
Maturity also pokes into the movie’s typical teenage proceedings more than one might presume. As part of the setup, Veronica’s friends are genuinely trying to contact deceased loved ones, and amplify their attempt using a celestial event to boot. I.e. they aren’t simply slumber partying airheads from The CW looking for something silly to do.
Themes about resolving uncertain growing pains can be found inside moments involving Veronica’s absentee mother, crumbling friendships, or unfortunately timed menstruation. “Veronica” doesn’t approach “Raw” (review here) levels of coming-of-age metaphor, but individual pieces do double as more than mere plot points.
“Veronica” gives back according to what expectations invest. See it as standard spooks hung on predictable pegs and yawns will be served up in short order. See it for its style and imagery will engage. Connect with Veronica’s family, an easy prospect given the outstandingly organic performances from Sandra Escacena and her young co-stars (particularly Ivan Chavero as her adorably bespectacled, bedwetting baby brother), and a deeper experience lies in store. Personal appeal influences what path to pick, but the final choice is yours.
Review Score: 65