As compared to 2017, it’s been a much slower year for horror released in 2018. By this time a year ago, we already had Split, Get Out, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, and The Void. In 2018, the only major horror releases, Insidious: The Last Key and Winchester, have been lacklustre or outright duds. The Ritual, available since early February on Netflix, met expectations but there hasn’t been much for horror fans to sink their teeth into this year. Fortunately, Netflix released Spanish horror film Veronica (2017) from director Paco Plaza on February 26, and we now have an early candidate for best horror film of 2018.
In terms of its story, Veronica (2017) is not an original concept – it’s both a simple and familiar story. Veronica is a 15-year-old girl living with her three younger siblings and mother. Since her father’s death, Veronica’s mother works late hours at a local bar while Veronica acts her younger siblings’ surrogate parent. During a solar eclipse, Veronica and two school friends sneak off from their class and play on a ouija board, which as is apt to happen in horror films, ends badly. Following their seance with the ouija board, Veronica begins experience supernatural phenomenon putting her and her siblings at risk.
While Veronica (2017) doesn’t offer much new with its storyline it more than makes up for it with style, acting, and genuine scares. Like the best films based on hauntings, director Paco Plaza takes his time, with strange occurrences starting with small, innocuous events building to more threatening occurrence. Toys make noises by themselves, lights flicker, and shadowy apparition linger in the background. In one scene at the family dinner table, Veronica is frozen with food dribbling from her mouth, hands trembling, while her siblings watch on helplessly. Demonic figures lurk in the background, wisely kept in the shadows by Plaza, to increase their menace without exposing any budgetary restraints. There are some truly hauntin images in the film, including a late-appearance from Veronica’s deceased father and a blind school nun nicknamed “Sister Death” by the students. There are a few effective jump scares spread out over the film’s run time, but Plaza wisely elects to focus on atmosphere maintaining a consistently mounting sense of dread.
All the acting performances in Veronica (2017) are excellent. Sandra Escacena carries the bulk of acting responsibilities as Veronica is a standout, absolutely convincing as an teenage girl as an isolated teenage girl increasingly backed into a desperate situation. Even the much younger child actors in Veronica offer believable performances in their roles. In addition to the performances, Plaza sets up several disturbing images that will be pure nightmare fuel for some viewer. The climax and its twist aren’t game-changers – seasoned horror fans will see what’s coming – but everything is so well executed, and the investment in Veronica’s plight so well-entrenched, that it doesn’t diminish the film’s impact in the least. Veronica (2017) is one of the first films released over the last several months that has left me with a genuinely chilling feeling.
Veronica (2017) has received a lot of positive buzz and it’s definitely well-earned. While it’s certainly not an original premise, director Paco Plaza constructs a chilling film that invests its well-worn concept with an abundance of style and substance that exceeds any limitations of familiarity. This is a film that works on its aesthetics and performances, managing to chill regardless of its adherence to genre conventions. After a stretch of two months in 2018 with not much with watching, Veronica joins The Ritual as as early candidate for a ‘best of 2018’ horror list.