Madrid, 1991. A teen girl finds herself besieged by an evil supernatural force after she played Ouija with two classmates.
There is something rather intoxicating about one’s native tongue and the beauty that flows from its timbre. Almost like a sacred incantation that ensnares your ears, the spellbinding appeal of its words caress the deepest recess of my soul and makes me feel ancient. These words like roads, roots, veins connect me to the richness of a history that spans hundreds and thousands of years before me. Again, it is quite bewitching. With that said, watching this horror movie in Spanish, for me, was doubly enchanting and by far, more haunting than anything I’ve ever seen before.
It’s a pretty well known fact that our colonizing brethren in Spain know how to deviously craft truly terrifying horror films. The Orphanage, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth, are just a few of the masterful films that routinely deliver the bone-chilling scares that horror fans ravenously crave. Now, it appears, there is a new film to cure our insatiable hunger for scares in the Certified Fresh 100% Rotten Tomatoes rated film: Verónica. This movie is now available to stream on Netflix and is directed by Spanish director Paco Plaza who also brought us the equally terrifying and highly praised found footage feature [REC]. This Spanish horror film has all the elements of a classic horror tale: young kids, a Ouija board, an evil spirit, it’s based on the real life police case file notes for incidents that occurred in Madrid in 1992, a solar eclipse, and a blind nun…Instant Classic.
La Atmósfera Malvada
To put it plainly, this film is terrifying.
One of the things I look for most in a horror movie is the film’s overall feel, its tone and pace. And this movie is beautifully dressed in its morose best, wasting no time to plunge us right into the mire as the foreboding shadow of fear washes over us like the solar eclipse that sparks this evil. From its frantic opening scene where police rush to respond to a petrifying 911 call, the pace builds and moves with conviction, setting up a widely used narrative tactic to begin a movie with scenes of its climatic end. But, unlike its predecessors, here, it’s used wonderfully to set its urgent pace and dreadful tone, leaving us with a perfectly executed cliffhanger at the beginning of the film that presses the issue, as we intensely desire to discover what the responding authorities might be looking at before the opening credits begin to flash on the screen. From there on, its pace is deliberate, efficiently moving forward and pressing deeper and deeper into Verónica’s horror as she races to undo the mess she’s made.
And, part of the horror of this film stems from its “race against time” aspect as Verónica begins to experience the effects of her childish experimentation with a Ouija board, which she initially uses to contact her dead father. But, as the intensifying effects of the ghostly threat begin to affect her and her siblings, she embarks on a dizzying quest to find ways to rid her of this evil, knowing that with every passing moment, the danger grows exponentially. It’s never overwhelming, but the pace does a great job of relishing in the mounting tension and raising the stakes for our protagonist at every turn, keeping you on the edge of your seat the entire time, never knowing if her efforts will be effective or all just in vain.
In terms of texture and feel, this film is full of lush darkened-low-lit-moments that are equal parts alluring as they are haunting. Most of the movie takes place in either: candle lit, decrepit, catholic relic filled basements or in dark ominous bedrooms and brooding shadow-laced hallways. Creating a shadowy box that is almost suffocating as we sit and wait for whatever must be lurking in the shadows to finally appear. In the end, what we have is a world that feels real and three dimensional, which in turn makes Verónica’s desperation to save her friendships, her siblings, herself, feel all the more genuine.
As such, what Plaza has created is a beautiful atmospheric experience that envelopes your senses and smothers you with its terror. Its intelligent film making at its best and it's just a wonder to take in.
Una Niña Inocente
This brings me to the young actress who portrays Verónica, Sandra Escacena. This is her first film and she handled it like a pro. Horror films feel like the most demanding films to make. On top of them being physically demanding, I am sure the mental toll they take on a person can feel quite daunting as well. But, Sandra Escacena handles it like a seasoned veteran and delivers some truly horrifying body scares as well as providing some real teenage angst as she’s charged with not only taking care of herself, but of her three younger siblings as well. She carries the weight of the terror firmly on her shoulders and is relentless in her craft. Her unwavering commitment to her character’s plight helps lend another layer of authenticity to this harrowing tale and is another success for Plaza’s story.
Unfortunately, this is another film that was good but could have been perfect if they would have utilized all of the pieces that they had at their disposal to optimal effect. Now, I understand that this film is based on a police report that was written by the officer who investigated these events and who witnessed some of this horror unfold. But, there were so many genuinely interesting elements introduced through the course of the film, which had they have been explored just a tiny bit more or some creative liberties taken to expand its significance, it would have made this a much better film, in my opinion. Now, I’m sure they tried to keep this as close to the events that actually transpired and I am sure the writer and director of the film wanted to respect the story and the family affected by this tragedy. With that said, these are just minor gripes that again, in my opinion, could have elevated this movie from great to perfect.
For example, “Sister Death”! I failed to mention her before, but this character is great. This blind nun who “sees” without using her eyes could have had a lot more to offer in the realm of spiritual guidance and how to fight the demonic presence stalking Vero. But, instead, she’s simply relegated to a little less than a cameo in the film, wasting the potential that this character could have had. Just from a visual standpoint, her overall design is transfixing and completely terrifying. Sister Death and Verónica only share a few scenes together, but each are filled with unnerving tension and real palpable fear that I wish we could have had more of in the film. There is a detail explained regarding her blindness as well, that I won’t share for the sake of spoilers. But, that alone could have figured so much more into the plot of the film and could have been a great flashback sequence to perhaps shed light on the demonic presence that is following our protagonist and it could have maybe offered some information on how to combat it.
Secondly, the Encyclopedia of the Occult Magazines should have been like some pseudo-sacred texts a la Doctor Strange and allowed her to unlock other mystical powers. These magazines that Verónica has sprawled across her desk in her room, the same magazines that provided the Ouija board that began this terrible mess in the first place, could have been used a whole lot more in the movie. That’s not to say that it doesn’t play a part in the film, to the contrary, like i just mentioned, one of the books provided the Ouija board Verónica and her schoolmates used to summon the demon on the day of the eclipse. But, it also provides some really cool information that Verónica uses to set up her mystical defenses against the demon chasing her and her family. From that point on though, after that little tid bit was introduced, I just wanted her to explore the books even further, which is a true testament to how interesting its inclusion in the story was. It could have been a great way to further the mythology of the ghostly figure and it could have furthered the mystic arts aspect of the film as she figures out how to defend herself and her siblings from this malevolent spirit. However, as I mentioned before, what she is able to pull out of the books is a really cool detail and I love how it was used in the film.
Again, these are just small issues that don’t necessarily harm the film, but are more just my own horror film fetishes, so to speak. But, as a whole, Verónica is amazing and scary as hell. It’s no wonder why this is being praised as one of the most terrifying films of the year. It grabs you from the second it starts and you’re never at ease, even after the credits begin to roll as images of the real life Verónica’s home are displayed on the screen. It’s a reminder of the evils that befall those who welcome it and the consequences of playing with things you know nothing of. It’s a lesson for us, the viewers:
“Always shut the door behind you.”
Thanks for reading! Make sure and peruse the rest of our site for more blogs, podcast episodes and ways to connect to all of our Social Media sites. Make sure and like, follow, and subscribe to us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, iTunes, Stitcher, GooglePlay and anywhere else you get your podcasts from.