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Review: VERONICA (2017)

Eventually, I’ll get caught up with all the most talked-about horror movies of 2019, but before I do, I wanted to do a review of ones that had gotten away from me in years past. I wanted to start with VERONICA, the movie about the teenage girl who deals with demon possession in her family when she sets up a seance with an Ouija board to communicate with her dead father.

VERONICA, starring Sandra Escacena (THE SAME) in the title role, is a fourteen-year-old girl living in Madrid, Spain, in the year 1991. In the wake of her father’s death, Veronica lives with her three younger siblings and mother, and is solely responsible for the care of her younger siblings while her mother works long hours at a restaurant bar down the street. She plans to hold a seance with an Ouija board with her friends in the basement of their school while everyone else at school is outside watching the eclipse. This premise, accompanied by a creepy blind nun, could be the start of a great horror film, or something incredibly hokey.

I don’t think VERONICA is the worst horror movie I’ve ever seen…but I’ve definitely seen better. Directed by Pablo Plaza, the director of REC, I was initially excited about the premise, having forgotten all about how VERONICA had buzz this time last year in 2018 about being “too scary for people to finish watching”. There was a lot of backlash against that initial buzz later on, with a lot of people saying that the movie was horribly dull. So, I had to find out for myself.

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Veronica is grieving for the loss of her father. It’s hinted at in a picture, but never explained, that perhaps her father worked at the restaurant her mother works at as well, and it’s little details like this that make VERONICA an interesting drama, if not a horror.

Perhaps this is the internal motivator for her going along with her two friends’ idea to have a seance with an Ouija board she sneaks into the school basement. Weird hinky things start to happen, though, when they start using the Ouija board, and Veronica passes out and doesn’t remember the rest of the turn of events. Her friends, do, however, and promptly stop speaking to her, and she is forced to navigate her way through high school on her own. This is one of those situations that feels authentically real, when teenage girls spurn each other, because the actor playing Veronica does such a solid job in her performance. However, it makes VERONICA less of a horror and more of a character study.

The film shows its strengths in the events that happen to the family. Veronica is struggling with teenage things, like wearing braces, getting her period and worrying about bleeding through the mattress, or not wanting to choke the life out of her siblings that she is basically a surrogate mother to. It didn’t even really occur to me how young the character Veronica is supposed to be, dealing with three much younger siblings, until the end of the movie with the fated call to the police. While Veronica is dealing with the ins and outs of being a teenager, she thinks she has called up the spirit of her father. But in fact, it’s something a little bit more demonic than that.

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Without giving away too much about the end of the movie, I’ll talk about why VERONICA walks the fine line between being an interesting movie but not a terribly compelling one. It doesn’t really have any jump scares. It has one or two set pieces which make the movie interesting, but that’s a disappointing number. This could either make it a very different horror movie, or a very bad one. At least it’s not broadcasting the jump scares for full minutes before they happen, and that’s to its credit, because it doesn’t have any, preferring to generate all of its spooky material through silhouettes and shadows and broken furniture. I’m not suggesting that a horror movie needs one. However, if a horror movie doesn’t have jump scares, it should have another reason to make me squirm. There’s also some great acting by the kids, Veronica and her siblings, which honestly saves this movie

The music is all over the place, and not very good, with 90s synth in parts, and long references to what sounds like a Spanish Pearl Jam. Not ideal horror film music. The score of the film is not particularly foreboding or ominous, and I quickly became disappointed with it, as well as some of the special effects used in the film to create silhouettes. The twist in the plot, when it comes, is hardly a twist, but something I was almost predicting very quickly.

As of yet, I’m not familiar with Pablo Plaza’s other film, REC, but now I’m curious if there are any similarities between REC and VERONICA. In the end, almost any movie is worth watching to see how the story is handled, especially since this was supposedly based on a true story. But in my opinion, I tend to avoid demon possession movies, as most of the ones I’ve seen in the past several years have been disappointing. VERONICA is sadly no different, and badly overhyped in the first place.

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