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) doesn’t present with 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 plays surrogate parent to her younger siblings. During a solar eclipse, Veronica and two school friends sneak off from their class and play on a Ouija board. As is often apt to happen in horror films, this ends badly. Following their seance, Veronica begins experiencing supernatural phenomenon, putting family at increased risk.
Paco Plaza Breathes Scary Life Into a Familiar Concept
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 the supernatural and possession, director Paco Plaza takes his time, methodically ratcheting up the tension. Strange occurrences start small – toys make noises by themselves, lights flicker, and shadowy apparitions linger in the background.
… Plaza wisely elects to focus on atmosphere, maintaining a consistently mounting sense of dread.
In one stand-out 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 haunting 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 also 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.
Frights Rooted in Strong Performances
All the acting performances in Veronica are excellent. Sandra Escacena, who shoulders the bulk of the film as Veronica, is a standout. The young actress is absolutely convincing as isolated teenage girl increasingly backed into a desperate situation. Even the much younger child actors in Veronica offer believable performances.
Veronica is one of the first films released over the last several months that has left me with a genuinely chilled sensation.
In addition to the performances, Plaza sets up several disturbing images that will be pure nightmare fuel for some viewers. 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 is one of the first films released over the last several months that has left me with a genuinely chilled sensation.
Early Candidate for Horror Film of the Year
Veronica 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 worth watching, Veronica joins The Ritual as as early candidate for a ‘best of 2018’ horror list.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A-