Due to a mix-up, I meant to watch the Mexican psychological thriller Verónica (Carlos Algara & Alejandro Martinez-Beltran, 2017), but instead got Paco Plaza’s Spanish horror film of the same title and the same year. Never mind. Trusting to serendipity, I decided to plough ahead.
This Verónica is based (loosely, apparently) on a real-life 1992 case from Madrid, in which cops arrived at an emergency scene to witness “rationally inexplicable” occurrences and many scary traces in a small, working-class apartment. Then the film winds back a few days to show – to hypothesise, in a sense – what led up to this event.
What the cops did actually see (according to this film) on that fateful day is withheld from our gaze until the ending. In its place, Plaza gives us a brilliant transition that is sure to be copied many times hence: from a close-up of the teenage Verónica (Sandra Escacena) screaming, we pass to her mouth open in an everyday yawn.
Alas, the film doesn’t live up to the promise of this single, great touch. Once immersed in Verónica’s school life, it’s down to that institution’s basement for a spot of Ouija – ominously coinciding with a total eclipse of the sun. (All the kids not spooking it up in the basement are instructed to gaze at this eclipse through protective strips of film!)
An evil spirit duly possesses our heroine, and she takes it (along with the broken Ouija board) home to the apartment where her overworked mother rarely spends time, and three other, highly vulnerable, little siblings toddle around (the kid performers, including Iván Chavero as bug-eyed Antoñito, are terrific).
In its long, middle stretch, Verónica, like so many horror-thrillers, feels the necessity to puff itself out with potential, added complications. These are, in themselves, intriguing – shadowy memories of Verónica’s father; the onset of her menstruation, à la Carrie (1976); the suggestion that she is simply foisting her violent hallucinations upon others – but they end up just as red herrings to delay the catastrophic, final evening at home.
There’s no greater or more general metaphor at play; it really is, finally, only about the bad luck of playing with a Ouija board and getting zapped by and with a bad spirit dude – like a thousand other horror movies, better and worse than this one. The Entity (1982), it ain’t.
Plaza was Jaume Balagueró’s collaborator on the [REC] series (2007-2014). He gives this project a flashy, TV police-procedural ambience – and documentary archival photos of the photographed evidence give an undeniable, closing-credits frisson – and yanks up the soundtrack volume (while the set shakes) whenever we reach a horror crescendo. There isn’t much of any novelty going on here.
Footnotes: a reference to the classic Spanish horror film, Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? (1976) – an avowed influence on Lucile Hadzhilalovic’s superb Evolution (2015) – is deftly worked into proceedings (in both a clip from that film, and in the presence of a Don't Look Now-style old, blind nun nicknamed “Sister Death”, played by Consuelo Trujillo); and, less meaningfully beyond a vague allusion to spirits, Ana Torrent is cast as Verónica’s harried, single mother – over 40 years after her classic child roles for Víctor Erice (The Spirit of the Beehive, 1973) and Carlos Saura (Cría cuervos, 1976).
© Adrian Martin 5 January 2018