Emir Skalonja, the writer/director of Veronika, (not to be confused with Veronica), isn’t just a prolific filmmaker, he’s a varied one as well. Holland Road Massacre: The Legend of Pigman is a straight up slasher. Anthropocene is a post-apocalyptic thriller. And Casting Couch Slaughter is a slasher with an appropriately filthy sense of humour. Now he’s turned his attention to psychological horror/dark drama.
The film opens with Veronika (Heather Dunham, Little Green People) taking one too many beatings from her boyfriend and putting a knife in him. Then she takes the knife and gets into the bathtub.
Six months later she looks like a different woman relaxing with friends Marie (Kristina Santiago, Dick Johnson & Tommygun vs. The Cannibal Cop: Based on a True Story) and Nathaniel (Brandon Machajewski, Crossbreed, The OUTLAW: The Living Comic Book, 666). She’s turning her life around and trying to put her self-destructive ways behind her. Then John (Mark Bogumil, Crown Vic, Not Another Monster Movie) introduces himself to the group and sets his sights on her.
I’m not giving anything away when I say that John seems too good to be true. And, as is usually the case, he isn’t. And soon Veronika is fighting for her sanity, and her life, yet again. Can she hold out until her friends or Detective Rhoads (Ryan Little) find her?
Unlike Skalonja’s previous films the emphasis in Veronika is on mental and psychological abuse. Which is not to say there isn’t violence in the film, there is. But it’s more in the way of punches and slaps than the bloody carnage of his previous films. What deaths the film does have are fairly restrained in terms of gore.
I get that that’s so it doesn’t take away from the film’s psychological elements, this doesn’t take its story down the same path as Eric Stanze’s Scrapbook. Although I wouldn’t mind seeing this crew do something like that. I just can’t help wishing that a couple of the kills were a bit nastier and more brutal looking for reasons you’ll understand when you see them.
It’s also a much darker and grimmer film than anything I’ve seen from Skalonja before. Which is understandable because of the abuse and degradation that’s heaped on the likeable protagonist. And the fact that this kind of thing does happen in the real world. Coupled with solid performances from Dunham and Bogumil, who makes an extremely hateable villain, it gives it a feeling of bleakness that something less anchored in reality can’t achieve.
On the down side, I felt that the ending left a few too many unanswered questions and loose ends. And the choreography, or maybe the camera angles, of a couple of the fight scenes, could have been better. But for a film that cost under five thousand dollars, Veronika looks and sounds exceptionally good overall. That includes “Strength and Glory”, the song over the end credits.
I was impressed with the way Skalonja handled the change in tone from his other films and the way he held the film together without having a killing every few minutes. Not all directors can make that transition and I hope Veronika gets a better reception than another similar change-of-pace film, Sean Donohue’s The Hart-Break Killer.
That said I can’t help be happy that he has more familiar fare such as Killers of Killers and the blood and boobs sequel Casting Couch Slaughter 2: The Second Coming on the way. Yes, Veronika is a good film, but a little of its darkness goes a long way.