As compared to 2017, the 2018 year in horror has been a little slower. By this time a year ago, Split, Get Out, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, and The Void had already been released. To date, 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 else for horror fans to sink their teeth into this year. Fortunately, Netflix released Spanish horror film Veronica from director Paco Plaza on February 26. According to some critics, we now have an early candidate for horror film of the year.
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. With her mother out of the house, Veronica is forced to play surrogate parent to her younger siblings. During a solar eclipse, Veronica and two school friends sneak away from class to play on a Ouija board. Something strange happens during their brief game. As the days pass following their seance, Veronica begins experiencing supernatural phenomenon. Soon Veronica learns that she may have put her family in horrible danger.
Veronica Breathes Scary Life Into a Familiar Concept
While Veronica doesn’t offer much new with its storyline, it more than makes up for it with style, acting, and genuine scares. Like the best supernatural films, 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. It’s all pretty familiar stuff for ghost movies. Yet the movie is seeped in enough style to make it feel frightfully new.
… Plaza wisely elects to focus on atmosphere, maintaining a consistently mounting sense of dread.
During a family dinner, for instance, Veronica freezes with food dribbling from her mouth and hands trembling. Her siblings can only look on helplessly. It’s a scene that perfectly balance family drama with standard horror elements. Demonic figures lurk in the background. Plaza wisely keeps these figures in the shadows, thereby increasing their menace without exposing budgetary restraints. Plaza’s ghost story boasts some truly haunting images. Veronica’s deceased father makes a ghostly appearance that serves up a good jolt. A blind school nun, nicknamed “Sister Death” by the students, may out-creep Valak in The Nun. Plaza also spreads out several effective jump scares, while largely focusing on atmosphere and mounting 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 absolutely convinces as isolated teenage girl increasingly backed into a desperate situation. Even the much younger child actors 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 Plaza’s execution of the horror tropes enlivens the scares. Veronica also distinguishes itself from similar films through its investment in Veronica’s plight. Mainstream horror films often sacrifice character development for cheap scares. Here we have an example of a movie confident enough in its material to spend time with its characters. This 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
Critics have heaped a lot of praise on Veronica. In this case, Veronica has earned very bit of that critical recognition. 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-