Paco Plaza’s Veronica plays like any number of supernatural horror possession thrillers mixed with Nightmare on Elm Street. Younger audiences less aware of those references have dubbed it the “scariest movie ever.” Older audiences a little more attuned to the various genre tropes should at least be able to agree this is a pretty well-made addition to an increasingly familiar genre.

Set over four days in Madrid in 1991, this Spanish-language film centers on Veronica, a 15-year-old girl (Sandra Escacena) who has recently lost her father. Whatever grieving she did, though, was probably short-lived since she seems to have quickly been forced into a caregiving role for her young brother (Antoñito) and two sisters (twins Lucia and Irene) while her mother works long hours at a bar to support the family.

As so endearingly played by Escacena, Veronica displays a firm, but loving hand with her siblings which makes her seem mature beyond her years, yet she’s also still a girl with braces on her teeth, boy band pictures on her walls, stuffed animals on her bed, and painted-on stars staring down from the ceiling of her bedroom. We know that deep down she just wants to be a normal 15-year-old with accessible parents and the freedom to simply spend time alone in her room listening and dancing along to her favorite songs. Veronica never actually says as much, but the look on her face when she observes a nearby neighbor’s more bucolic existence says it all for her.

[Update: Or is that neighbor actually a younger version of Veronica and instead of observing she’s actually reminiscing about better times? See the comments section for a discussion about that and whether the final one of these looking-out-the-window scenes adds a deeper sexual component to Veronica‘s coming-of-age narrative.]

At Veronica’s all-girls Catholic school, she daydreams and passes notes with friends while a teacher lectures about solar eclipses and ancient superstitions. It’s one of those classic movie situations where the characters are oblivious to the foreshadowing and thematic resonance baked into a teacher’s lesson. Later that day, while the rest of the school observes the eclipse Veronica and her friends use a Ouija board to conduct a seance. They mean to contact Veronica’s dad, but they instead unwittingly invite exactly the kind of malevolent presence their teacher was warning about. Veronica speaks in tongues. The Ouija board breaks. Her friends freak out.

So, ya know, the usual.

The rest of the film is devoted to Veronica coming to terms with what’s happening to her, first suffering disturbing nightmares before progressing to waking dreams where the monsters from her nightmares seem to be invading the real world and threatening her siblings. Ala Elm Street, she gets no help from any parent and not nearly enough help from disbelieving friends. The whole thing turns into a coming of age metaphor. One fever dream, for example, starts with a more obvious representation of Veronica’s immediate anxieties (won’t spoil what) before veering over into a depiction of her first steps into womanhood.

Plaza, previously best known for his sci-fi franchise Rec, thus pitches Veronica as a character study of a 15-year-old girl in the midst of a supernatural fight with demonic entities pretty much only she can see, a perfectly fitting narrative for a girl who had already been suffering in silence.

There is also mysterious blind nun at the school, but I’ll leave you to discover her surprises on your own.

What makes it all so effective is Escacena gripping central performance and the believable sincerity of the actors playing her siblings. At one point, the twins roleplay and commentate on an imagined, positively insane Miss Spain contest (spoiler: Miss Madrid turns out to be a super intelligent robot). It’s mere background noise to what Veronica is doing elsewhere in the apartment, but if you listen to what they’re actually saying it’s hilarious and so positively little kid-think. Plus, Plaza’s Nosferatu-esque use of shadows does the genre proud.

He tees up several standout sequences in which the scary monster is seen only in shadow

What drags it down is a surprising mid-movie switch toward over-explaining everything and really, really beating home certain points we’re not trusted to remember. Plus, at times the metaphors could have used a little more subtlety and one repeated Hitchcockian camera trick involving a mirror in the mom’s restaurant turns into an unnecessary distraction.

Those are but minor complaints, though, in what I took to be a familiar, but well-executed horror thriller.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Even if this was just a coming of age drama about a likable 15-year-old girl, her three charismatic siblings, and absentee mother, it would register as watchable thanks to the strength of the performances. Add on a familiar ouija-and-possession angle with a creepy nun, spooky shadows, and ominous creaks and cracks and you get a quality movie to watch on Netflix.

CRITICAL CONSENSUS RIGHT NOW

RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS

  1. If this review is somehow the first you’re hearing of Veronica and you’re now intrigued, please refrain from Googling the film or watching the trailer or even looking at its Wikipedia page. The coverage of Veronica I’ve seen all seems to spoil something the film itself works very, very hard to keep secret.
  2. Netflix doesn’t really do traditional “advertising” with most of its movies. That’s why Veronica dropped on the service last week without any real warning and little fanfare on Netflix’s part. They opt instead for a meritocracy where those films which find a big enough audience make it into the “Trending” and “What’s Popular” sections. The irony is that this led to many a “This amazing movie on Netflix deserves your attention even if Netflix doesn’t seem to think so” think piece, which is exactly the kind of free advertising Netflix is counting on. Veronica has now fallen into this increasingly familiar pattern, but, hey, it clearly worked on me.
  3. SPOILER: So, was that Centella commercial and jingle real? Or something they made up? Credit to Gardenaunt in the comments section for pointing me to this video of the real Centella commercial/jingle:
Advertisements

Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

18 Comments

  1. I think there’s actually a lot to those window scenes. That first one you mention in the beginning? I noticed that girl looks an awful lot like the guy or guys in all the band posters in Veronica’s room. Big curly hair with a bandana worn the same way. Mourning her more care-free youth since now that her dad is gone she’s had to take care of the kids most of the time?

    There was at another in the middle where she’s hanging her brother’s sheet out to dry and she sees a girl studying and her father coming in to check on her encouragingly. Seems to be a recurring theme of reminiscing over happier times.

    And then there’s possibly the biggest one…around 77 minutes in where she’s holding up the split pieces of the Ouija board looking sad after falling out with Rosa at the party, and she looks through the window and sees two people kissing that kind of look like her and Rosa. Looking back, this makes a whole lot of sense given the tension between her and Rosa over suddenly inviting Diana to the Ouija board day and her strong reaction to Rosa’s rejection of her at the party and etc (also, now I’m wondering about all those scenes involving people coming out of her closet…)

    Reply

    1. Upon first watch and now watching them again, I’m not entirely sure how to take those scenes. Simply put, they are filmed from so far away that I can’t quite make out the girl’s face. As you said, it could actually be Veronica, and instead of a simple window into someone else’s bucolic life she’s actually reminiscing about the past. The only reason I would even slightly push back against that is simply the girl she keeps looking at has this big, curly hair whereas Veronica’s is as straight as could be. Not everyone is born with curly hair, after all. Then again, there is this thing called a curler, which is totally something she’d never have time to mess with as the virtual mom for her siblings.

      Also, upon second viewing I was more aware that their apartment/building is oddly shaped enough that she can apparently look out the laundry room’s window and into the twin’s bedroom. So, that room she keeps looking at which I took to be a neighbor’s room could just be another part of her own apartment.

      The final moment you referenced is similarly hard to make out. It’s still filmed from far away and shot through rain. On first glance, I thought the person kissing the girl was a longhaired boy ala someone from one of the posters on her wall. But you’re right. That person actually has curly brown/blonde hair just like Rosa.

      Which would mean this movie is even more of a coming of age metaphor than I even realized. On top of everything else, there might also be a sexual awakening component to it as well. I had wondered if there was supposed to be a sexual element to her feud with her friends, that maybe Veronica was so hurt by Rosa ditching her for Diana because she was not only losing a friend and vital support system but also a possible girlfriend.

      Either way, the fact that she glimpses this kiss while staring out from beneath her torn-apart ouija board certainly lends the moment an enhanced symbolism.

      I’ve updated the review to direct people to the comments section to see your interpretation. Veronica’s already an incredibly well-made movie, but your interpretation would make it all the more fascinating and actually make it a part of queer cinema.

      Reply

      1. Cool, thanks!

        Yeah, if this were another movie I might pass these things off as coincidence, but there’s just so much imagery and double meaning alluding to her father and her having to take care of the siblings and probably even more stuff that I didn’t pick up on the first time, that a detail like that can’t just be an accident.

        I sure wasn’t expecting this level of complexity from what everyone’s calling “the scariest possession movie ever”. I think I’m gonna have to watch it again and take notes.

  2. Thanks for this list! I feel a horror binge coming on before finals.

    Reply

  3. […] Sadly, it isn’t nearly on the same level as recent Netflix horror offerings like The Ritual and Veronica, but it’s still a very soft recommend for hardcore horror fans, especially those more forgiving […]

    Reply

  4. Re: the Centella commercial and jingle:

    Reply

    1. THANK YOU! I searched on YouTube for that myself and all I could find were a ton of videos that clearly had nothing to do with the Centella of the movie. It is such a culturally specific thing in the film that I assumed it was real but maybe not so well known outside of Spain. Glad to see they didn’t just make it up.

      Reply

      1. You’re welcome!
        First I did a Google search looking for “Centella Jingle”, which is how I found your site (😄). When I went to YouTube, I finally typed in the same and that worked. Based on the comments, others had also looked for it after watching the movie!

      2. When I did that I kept getting stuff about the Centella plant or extract. Your search skills are clearly better than mine 🙂 I’ve updated the article now to embed the video and I credited you for finding it, if that’s okay with you.

        “which is how I found your site”

        I had seen that people were coming to my Veronica article looking for Centella info. In retrospect, I should have taken that as a sign to circle back to my review and make a more concerted effort to actually find the jingle. But, in this case, I guess the internet provides.

      3. Yes, that’s fine.
        My “research skills” may be due to being a teacher for many years. However, my powers of observation are not what they should be. I thought Veronica was looking at Rosa across the way, and that the blond kissing the girl during the last window sequence was Diana kissing Rosa!

      4. Those “across the way” sequences are confusing. I’ve hashed it out in the comments elsewhere, but I initially thought the girl across the way was a stranger. Then I thought it was one of her friends, as you just argued. Then I wasn’t sure, and I’m still not.

        But then one of the readers argued it was actually Veronica reminiscing about her own past – innocence, loss, and burgeoning sexuality. Upon rewatch, I got a better sense of just how weird the geography seems to be with their apartment. She can apparently see into other rooms of the apartment from the laundry room. So, maybe that really is just her looking into her own room during those sequences.

        My sticking point here – and this probably shows how little I know about girl’s hair – is that the girl across the way has big, curly hair, and Veronica doesn’t. Unless the idea is supposed to be that in her more innocent, younger days she had curly hair, the girl across the way has to be a stranger or Rosa. If it is Rosa and that last bit is Rosa kissing Diana, that, to my mind, still supports the reading of Veronica secretly being about this poor girl dealing with her own developing sexuality in addition to being asked to grow up too fast.

  5. I did a search last night on the window scenes, after reading the comments above, but couldn’t find anything. I am pretty sure my original ideas were wrong! I think it could possibly be Veronica as her younger self (she might have had a perm in the ‘80’s), but am leaning towards it being another girl. Maybe someone Veronica sees her younger self in. The music she likes, the closeness with her father (the man “across the way” doesn’t have her father’s long hair), etc. But then she sees her with a guy. Different from her own life…
    Yes, you are right, she can see into her family’s apt. from that window.

    Reply

    1. “she might have had a perm in the ‘80’s”

      A perm! Of course. I’d almost forgotten the film’s early 90s setting. Those flashbacks, if that’s what they are, would have to be from the 80s when perms were all the rage.

      The thing with those window scenes is we never can quite make out the faces. So, we’re largely going on hairstyles. Due to this, my original reading of it all is exactly what you seem to have settled on yourself, which is that it’s just Veronica glimpsing another girl’s life and lamenting what she’s lost and the rite-of-passage moments she’s been denied. It is perhaps more interesting to think it’s all flashback or is actually one of Veronica’s friends, and I see validity in all of those readings. But, as you pointed out and I failed to notice myself, the dad from across the way doesn’t have the same hair as Veronica’s dad.

      Reply

      1. It’s all about the hair! 😁

  6. […] focusing on reviewing so many streaming movies and shows, particularly the Netflix ones, recently. Veronica, if you somehow haven’t seen it yet, is among the finest films I’ve seen all year, and […]

    Reply

  7. […] the question to you: what are some Netflix Original Movies you actually like? My list is led by Veronica,The Ritual, Mudbound, Meyerowitz Stories, and Gerald’s Game. What about your list? It’s […]

    Reply

  8. […] on a subway, but certainly nothing particularly profound. Sometimes I’m proven wrong and a Veronica, The Ritual, or Cargo sneaks up on me, which is why I’m a bigger fan of Netflix’s horror […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.