Director: Paco Plaza
Cast: Sandra Escacena, Bruna González, Claudia Placer, Iván Chavero, Ana Torrent
Watch Veronica online in the UK: Netflix UK
What did you do during the last solar eclipse? Watch a stream online safe from your living room? Venture outside but cautiously look at the phenomenon through a pinhole camera? Or did you go down into a basement and conduct an occult ritual? That’s what Victoria (Escascena) does in Victoria, and it’s no spoiler to say that it doesn’t end well.
The ritual involves the time-honoured horror staple of the ouija board, and it doesn’t take long for school friends Rosa and Diana to realise that things haven’t gone to plan. The moment the sun is obscured, the class the trio are using to communicate with the other side shatters, cutting Victoria’s finger and leaving blood all over the board. When the lights go out, there are no points for guessing which one of them’s missing, and starts displaying all kinds of abnormal activity.
What ensues is a largely familiar compilation of weird goings-on, but if you’re going to ask someone to make a mixtape, there’s no one better than Paco Plaza. One of the co-creators of the REC franchise, he breathed new life into the found-footage format two times over, elevating tired tropes to terrifying heights. He does the same thing once again with Veronica, stringing together slick set pieces and haunting images at a visceral, gripping rate.
Veronica’s strength, though, lies in its evocative sense of reality. The script is based on a real life case from 1991, the first police report in which an officer witnessed paranormal behaviour. It’s the kind of claim dozens have made before, but Plaza roots his production in that time and place. Period details creep into the edge of the frames, just as the house of Veronica’s family feels convincingly lived-in. The chemistry between Veronica’s siblings, Lucía (Bruna González), Irene (Claudia Placer) and little Antoñito (Iván Chavero), is equally believable; their nervous looks carry real concern and fear for each other, when Victoria’s dinnertime meal becomes jarringly inedible, or when Antoñito’s bath suddenly turns boiling hot.
Plaza knows how to push the boundaries of the mundane just slightly too far – combined with his impeccable use of sound and music, all it takes is a door to close to set you on edge. By the time arms are coming out of the darkness to grab our hero, you’ll be hard-pressed not to look away entirely. Sandra Escascena, meanwhile, adds the unnerving suggestion that she’s unaware of everything happening – a psychological element to balance out the horrible physical spectacle of her opening her mouth just a tiny bit too wide when she first lets out a scream.
It’s no coincidence that Veronica, who wants to contact her dead father, and not her friend (who wants to talk to her boyfriend) is the one chosen by the demonic force to possess – just as it’s no surprise to see when she wakes up after a particularly gruesome nightmare, that her bedsheets are stained with blood. Plaza and Escacena repeatedly bring us back to ghosts of classic horror tropes, but each one only helps to feed into the uncertainty experienced by Veronica, as her actions become more and more drastic. The introduction of a spooky Spanish nun, a chain-smoking wraith literally called “Sister Death” (Consuelo Trujillo), makes it clear that we’re not watching a typical American haunted house flick, but it’s those little touches of emotion that do just enough ground the unusual in the ordinary. That’s all the film needs to ramp up its pace and accelerate to its harrowing finale. The result may not be the most original horror movie, but it’s certainly very scary – what more do you need?
Veronica is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.