Sunday, October 07, 2018

Verónica (2017)

There seems to have been an annoying tradition over the past couple of years, where a new horror film will come out to headlines of "This Is The Scariest Movie Ever!" or "Netflix Users Can't Finish This Movie!". As I recall, Verónica was one of the films that got this treatment.

And I get it. It creates a buzz around the new release and one way or another - through people seeking a scare, or to prove they can handle it, or just plain curious - it gets viewers. The problem I find though is that this buzz kind of infiltrates my brain and creates hype where there wasn't any (and wasn't any needed) before. It's like going to the cinema and right before going into the screen, someone tells you the film you're about to watch is the best film ever! How can it possibly live up to that?

Obvious observation time: Verónica is not the scariest film ever, and it's easy to get through it without having to turn off in fright. It kind of reminded me of [REC] which, I learned later, made perfect sense as it's from Paco Plaza, the same director. It's reminiscent in places, rather than in any way similar; way less visceral, more contemplative and creepy. It's the quieter teenage sibling of Plaza's breakout film.

Based on a true police report, this depicts the alarming supernatural occurrences that take place after Madrid teen Verónica (Sandra Escacena) and two schoolfriends dabble with a Ouija board during a solar eclipse.

This is not a standard tale of possession, rather, it's the pursuit of a young woman by dark forces that she never intended to invite into her life. Verónica was trying to contact her deceased father but instead is caught in a week-long struggle against faceless humanoid demon figures stalking her house, threatening to harm her and her three young siblings.

Apart from teachers and nuns, their lives are rather adult-less, with their single mother working hard at a bar every evening and weekend. Verónica as the oldest is caretaker to her sisters and brother, and every weekday is a repeat of the one before: getting everyone ready and walking to school (established early on as a responsibility she takes seriously, so when we see it gradually break down, we know that shit is going wrong).

It must be mentioned that the kids in this film are one of its strongest points; their acting is so natural and the bond between Verónica and her siblings is warm and very apparent. They are cute, good kids - which makes the looming shadow over their existence all the more worrying.

Likewise, Escacena is amazing as Verónica (or "Vero" as she's known), charting the decline from normal 15 year old - old beyond her years nonetheless, due to circumstance - complete with fickle and catty friends who very much reminded me of the pain of being that age; to a bruised, isolated and exhausted husk of her former self. 

There's a couple of really interesting scenes where Verónica watches a girl in an apartment across the way from her, and it's clear this girl is meant to be her mirror image, a representation of everything Vero is not. She's seen dancing carefree to music (at the same time Vero is loading a washing machine with urine-soaked bedding from her little brother), talking affectionately with her father and having a love life. Verónica has none of these things, and the likelihood of her ever getting them becomes slimmer as events progress.

It's been a while since I've seen [Rec], so I can't remember how artistic Plaza was able to get with that found footage nerve shredder, but this had several moments of creative touches I wasn't expecting, including an incredible transition as Vero gets out of bed and walks across her room that was so cool I had to rewind to see it again. Others are not quite as flawless, but still effective.

This probably isn't going to give genre fans sleepless nights, but it is a very decent telling of a very chilling, supernatural story. It's streaming on Netflix now.

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