Paco Plaza / Spain / 2017 / 105 mins
Part of the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival 2018
Madrid, 1991. On the day that a solar eclipse bewitches her school, 15-year-old Veronica decides to escape from her humdrum existence of filling in as surrogate for the absent mother of her three younger siblings with a spot of Ouija. Enlisting the camaraderie of two school chums who turn out to be as dependable as a bungee cord made from spaghetti, Veronica attempts to contact her dearly departed dad, only to find something much darker take possession of her life.
As horror films go, Veronica is unlikely to feature on a creditable list of scariest films of the year, let alone of all time (despite what some commentators might have you believe). The jumps are all telegraphed pretty far in advance, the tired old tropes of innocence turning into something sinister are milked to desiccation and the big baddie shouldn’t keep you up at night. The movie is lent some extra spice by the assertion that it was based on a true story, though even that doesn’t elevate it anywhere close to the realm of unwatchable as some viewers (and critics) claim.
On the other hand, Veronica does have several things going for it. Chief among these is a young and able cast, spearheaded by an enthralling Sandra Escacena in the title role but admirably supported by Claudia Placer, Bruna González and Iván Chavero as her pint-sized siblings – the latter is a particular delight as the cock-eyed, chubby-cheeked cherub of the family. Second, there’s some neat directorial and cinematographic tricks on display, as Paco Plaza and Pablo Rosso have some fun with the genre. Finally, and most attractively of all, the film doesn’t rest on the superficial appeal of many horror movies in its ability to shock and scare alone.
Underneath the veneer of terror, there’s a meaningful commentary on the nature of teenage stress, mental anxiety and the overwhelming weight of a responsibility too big to handle. In a similar method to 2014’s Babadook, Veronica delves into psychological, metaphysical territory and invites the viewer along – but only if they wish to come. The beauty of the film lies in its dual functionality as both an entertaining (if somewhat derivative) horror and a more complex muse on the human condition. For that, it’s worthy of two hours of any movie lover’s time.