As a subgenre, it’s hard to find a possession/exorcism film that stands out. Veronica, by famed Spanish director Paco Plaza (one-half of the original REC team), doesn’t earn its stripes as a dramatic reinvention of familiar genre tropes, but the film is a solid effort with some pretty effective chills.
Like so many horror films, Veronica opens by establishing its (admittedly loose) ties to real life. Text reveals that the film is based on the police case file notes for events that occurred in Madrid in 1992; the text is accompanied by imagery of a police squadron arriving on-site at an apartment building in the early hours of a rainy morning. The police make their way into a unit and discover a shocking scene, but the reveal is withheld from the audience until the film’s climax.
At this point, Veronica jumps back in time three days to introduce protagonist Veronica (Sandra Escacena), a teenage girl raising her three younger siblings, Lucia (Bruna Gonzalez), Irene (Claudia Placer) and adorable 5-year-old Antonito (Ivan Chavero). Single mother Ana (genre fav Ana Torrent) is loving, but absent thanks to her job at a local bar and Veronica’s bubbling resentment at being made the defacto parent to her siblings is a key aspect of the narrative. It is her longing for her dead father that drives her, along with friends Rosa (Angela Fabian) and Diana (Carla Campra), to break out the Ouija board during a full solar eclipse in an attempt to communicate with him. Predictably bad results ensue, as Veronica witnesses creepy apparitions stalking her siblings, bruises appear on her arms and nasty stains are revealed under mattresses.
Pablo infuses the film with a fair number of stylistic flourishes, particularly when night falls and the supernatural events escalate. The most effective moments occur when he uses framing and camera movement to generate suspense about what lurks just off-camera. Several times Veronica watches as a menacing shadow with long talons creeps along the walls towards her sleeping siblings. Similarly, the climax, a séance conducted in reverse, is filmed in a series of slow rotating pans around the circle of the siblings’ faces as increasingly loud noises advance towards them. While these sequences are not particularly new or innovative, they are damn effective.
The film uses the three-day deadline established by the film’s opening sequence to generate tension and momentum, although this also lends the film a sense of inevitability that makes the ending a little obvious from the start. Several elements – the séance, the apparitions and even the presence of a blind nun (Consuelo Trujillo) – will feel a little too familiar to genre fans. It is unfortunate that Pablo doesn’t do more to distinguish them from other films exploring the same content. Also disappointing are several interesting narrative developments, such as Veronica’s lack of menstruation and Diana’s slow co-opting of Veronica’s friendship with Rosa, which are treated as red herrings or passed over without fanfare.
Still, Pablo’s confident direction and competent script make Veronica a compelling watch. In the lead role, Escacena anchors the film – without her everything would completely fall apart. It’s a complicated balancing act for the young actress to manage; she’s required to gaze longingly at the father/daughter relationship of her neighbors one moment and then hysterically wrangle her sleeping siblings during a supernatural attack a few scenes later. The rest of the young cast is similarly impressive. Gonzalez, Placer and Chavero capture that mix of frustration and affection inherent in all siblings in a very natural way. And while the narrative requires her to disappear for long stretches of time, it is always great to see Torrent in a horror flick.
Veronica may not reinvent the possession/exorcism subgenre, but it is nonetheless a solid entry. The script and direction are solid, as is the acting. A few scenes are genuinely frightening, particularly when Pablo pairs the loud jarring soundtrack with creeping camera movement and strategic framing to highlight what may or may not be lurking in the shadows. A little more originality would have helped Veronica stand out more, but for those seeking a creepy film to curl up on the couch with, this is a good option.