Just about every year, a new horror film is unrealistically touted as being “the scariest movie ever made.” While they typically never live up to such hype, many can still contain positive results — 2015’s entry in the battle for horror’s throne, The Witch, immediately comes to mind. This year’s model is Paco Plaza’s Spanish possession horror, Veronica, which flourishes with some nice camerawork and interesting visuals, as well as the added benefit of being (loosely) based on a supposedly “true” story. It’s rather unfortunate, however, that Veronica ultimately lacks a unique enough premise and compelling narrative, while absolutely struggling to produce any real scares. I’m left honestly confused by the high praise and viral sensation surrounding its recent addition to Netflix’s constantly expanding lineup.
Set in Madrid circa 1991, Veronica centers around a 15-year-old girl — can you guess what her name is? Following the sudden death of her father, Veronica (Sandra Escacena) is left to take on the role of caretaker for her three young siblings, Antoñito, Lucia, and Irene, as her single mother works her days away in order to support them. One day, as her classmates and teachers at the Catholic school she attends are viewing a solar eclipse from the school’s roof, Veronica and a couple friends take the opportunity to hastily perform a seance via Ouija board, away from the watchful eye of authority figures. Veronica hopes to contact her father, but the entity that answers her call is something much more sinister.
Exorcism films rank quite low on my scale of favorable horror subgenres, so I was especially bored by Veronica’s by-the-numbers set-up. But I remained hopeful for superior proceedings until the second act, when the film only became more expected as it dragged all the way to its predictable finale. Initially, Veronica experiences nightmares and visions as the possession becomes heightened, leaving her both mentally and physically scarred. The children aren’t safe either, as Veronica’s visions tend to result in her lashing out and potentially damaging the young ones as well. There’s some tension to be scavenged in the scenes between the deteriorating Veronica and her frightened family, but I was hard-pressed to find anything that was truly scary here. Veronica does so little that’s new and takes so few risks that it may actually be the safest horror film you could watch this year.
While I found it difficult to care about the characters and their story, there’s a number of other aspects I did appreciate, like cinematographer Pablo Rosso’s sufficient use of the film’s hyperlocal environment, wherein he highlights some nice-looking shots within the family’s apartment. Likewise, Chucky Namanera’s suitably chilling synth score, while slight in variety, is pleasantly reminiscent of Carpenter. Surprisingly, though, it’s the acting on display that is the film’s most impressive detail, especially since none of the lead performers were born prior to the new millennium.
But still, Veronica is an underwhelming and rather boring watch. For horror veterans, the most damning aspect will come courtesy of Plaza’s inability to circumvent numerous exhaustingly ordinary plot points that continue to mire all-too-many entries within its stagnant subgenre. Contrary to the resounding buzz about it on social media, Veronica isn’t “the scariest movie ever made” — far from it, in fact.
That is, unless you’re profoundly afraid of generic horror movies.
2 stars out of 5
Veronica is available now to stream on Netflix.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor