Netflix’s Veronica proves that a film doesn’t have to live up to its “scariest movie” moniker in order to be effective (spoilers)

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When the fuck are characters in horror films going to learn not to mess with ouija boards?

I’m about two-three weeks late (sue me) checking out the Spanish horror film Veronica that people have dubbed one of “the scariest movies ever made” and, while I figured that I wouldn’t agree with that marketing necessarily, I was still pretty impressed.

Veronica, which is somewhat based on a true story, introduces us to 15-year-old Veronica living in early ’90s Spain, who takes care of her three younger siblings, as her mother is a single mom with a daunting waitressing schedule.  Veronica, played pretty brilliantly by Sandra Escacena, is a pretty typical teenager for the most part, except for her responsibilities of making sure her younger sisters and brother are bathed, fed, and taken to school on time.  (Not that an eldest sibling taking care of her younger siblings is anything unusual, but Veronica seems to have quite a bit resting on her shoulders, for a high school freshman who hasn’t even completed puberty yet).  Veronica’s father is dead, so she and her two high school friends decide to take out the good ‘ole ouija board, to conjure up the spirits of those who they wish to talk to, with Veronica hoping to speak to her father.  In the backdrop of this seance scene, we are told that a total solar eclipse is happening in the sky as well, and that some cultures believe that solar eclipses pose ideal timing for human sacrificing (hello, obvious foreshadowing.)

The premise of Veronica is nothing that we haven’t seen before: 1) teenagers take out ouija board, 2) teenagers unlock a world of evil from said ouija board, 3) teenagers try to correct their mistakes of unleashing the spirits of said ouija board, 4) people die.  However, Veronica poses way more heart and purpose within its central narrative.  Veronica is a likable heroine in this story- she’s an independent, fairly mature teenager who deeply loves her family, and is willing to do anything to protect them.  The true tragedy of this story is witnessing Veronica’s downfall, as she realizes that she is becoming more and more powerless against these forces of evil that are trying to come between her and her family.  The younger sibling characters are also portrayed very well, and they don’t bug you, unlike most children in horror movie settings.  Instead, the children are pretty smart for their ages, and your heart breaks for them, as they unwillingly get thrust into this world that their eldest sister has accidentally brought them into.

I like Stranger Things as much as the next person, but I’ve grown slightly tired of the ’80s revival that seems to be in so many recent horror films of the last couple years, which is why I appreciate that they kept Veronica’s storyline within the early ’90s.  I’m more of a ’90s girl, so more ’90s horror backdrops, please I also appreciated the use of the John Carpenter-inspired synth composition, even though it felt like a bit of a rip off of It Follows. 

Other bonuses of Veronica is that it is shot pretty effectively, and director Paco Plaza (Rec) switches up his uses of cinematography, making sure to never use the same camera style too often.  One of the few moments that really got to me was the first initial sighting of the dark, shadowy figure we later learn is the unleashed demon, lurking in the background within a dark hallway that Veronica doesn’t notice, at around the :36 minute mark…woah.  Creepy.  I had to rewind and replay afterwards because I wasn’t quite sure what my eyes had caught.  Frankly, I thought the shots of the demon that were not in plain sight were more effective than the ones in which it was shot close-up to the camera.

As I briefly mentioned, I thought the performances from just about everyone were on-point.  Escacena impressed me with the initial ouija board scene, in which she has to keep her mouth wide open, through which the demon likely enters Veronica.  Her delivery of lines such as, “I’m the one on my own” as she argues with her mother, made me feel sympathy for her during her time of desperation.  I also really loved the jaded, brutally honest, sit-down-because-I’ve-seen-way-more-shit-than-you, chain-smoking Hermana Muerte, aka Sister Death.  I could have used a bit more of her character.

All in all, I thought Veronica was a pretty heartbreaking, moving story about a teenage girl with too much weight resting on her shoulders, as well as the perils of growing up/adulthood and dealing with grief at a young age, and, most importantly, the amount of pressure and responsibility that rests on a woman- particularly matriarchal figures.  Sure, Veronica’s mother wasn’t always home enough with her young family, but only because she sacrificed her time to provide for her family, so they had a place to live and food ready on the table.  And Veronica herself- who was often more motherly to the other kids than their actual mother- gave the ultimate sacrifice: she killed herself so that the others could be safe, once she realizes that the demon has taken over her.  Was it pretty obvious from the start that Veronica was going to serve as the sacrifice that the film alluded to in the beginning?  In order to protect her sibling?  Of course it was.  Regardless, I thought the film did a fine job at relaying a story about the sacrifices that women make everyday for those they love and who rely on them.

I only had a few issues with Veronica.  A) I felt like some of the uses of foreshadowing were a little too on-the-nose- particularly, the scene in which Veronica is in class, and the teacher is discussing literature, and says, “No one escapes the consequences of passing the limit that divides reality from fantasy.”  I mean…it’s a very poetic line, but I felt it was too obvious, like the filmmakers were trying to tell us too much that we could have figured out for ourselves.  B) I was hoping there was more symbolization of the scene in which Veronica wakes up after a traumatic dream and gets her period for the first time.  I may be overthinking it, but I felt like that could have held more meaning to it that wasn’t made clear.  C) Why the hell did the cops wait so long to go upstairs to save Antonito and Veronica?!  Maybe the point was that no one could “save” Veronica at that point, but they at least could have tried to sooner…

I’ve been reading some people complaining that Veronica is overrated and “not even scary” which I don’t totally disagree with, but for all you “iT’s NoT sCaRy” people: a good horror movie doesn’t have to always be terrifying to be effective enough to get under your skin.  Is Psycho all that scary?  Not really.  Did The Witch make you jump out of your seat? Nah.  Did Get Out make you scream? Of course it didn’t.  That doesn’t mean that these films didn’t sit with you for days after viewing- instead, they made you squirm with their haunting images, and forced you to think about the bigger context of what was really happening in their storylines; and, while Veronica had its share of chilling moments, it may have been overrated in terms of its alleged scares, but it was still a pretty damn good horror movie that haunted me for a day or two after watching.  That’s what matters most- to me, at least.

Recommend?  If you’re mature enough to realize that this is not going to be The Exorcist-level, and that some of the best horror films have more depth and meaning than surface-level mediocrity, then yes.

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