Set in Madrid in 1991 and based (extremely loosely) on true events, ‘Veronica’ tells the chilling supernatural tale of the 15 year-old titular heroine and a series of unexplained events taking place over a few days.
Veronica is the carer for her three younger siblings, while their mother is mostly absent, a fleeting figure in their lives who spends her days and nights working in a local bar since the death of the childrens’ father. While Veronica’s friends are experimenting with smoking and boys Veronica is left with the mundane role of young carer, cleaning, cooking and acting as babysitter to her siblings.
The film is set in familiar horror territory; an eclipse and a convent school. Scary nuns and the world being plunged into darkness provide a solid start for supernatural horror. Amidst this backdrop Veronica and her friend (with interloper to the friendship and experienced older girl Diana) try to contact Veronica’s dead father through a ouija board in the basement of the school. Very quickly the seance takes an unsettling turn and Veronica has a terrifying seizure.
Veronica finds herself in the school nurse’s office where the event is explained away as anemia or low blood pressure, leading her to reveal she has not yet had her first period. Thus we stumble into the real main theme of the film, the changing pubescent female body, which has long been a source of great fascination and horror.
Paco Plaza keeps with the urban high rise setting of his previous films ‘[REC]’ and ‘[REC 2]’ (which are two films which I find genuinely chilling) to great effect. Employing a ‘Rear Window’ approach to exploring Veronica’s own stunted teenage years he shows the stark contrast of a teenage girl in a neighbouring building who is enjoying all the normal teenage freedoms of dancing, making out and being looked after. Meanwhile our heroine slowly unravels under the weight of responsibility of being parent to her much younger siblings while tackling her own changing body, forcing her to straddle the two worlds of childhood and adulthood.
While the film could be viewed as another ouija board driven supernatural horror, an alternative explanation for events is firmly apparent, making ‘Veronica’ far more compelling viewing than many of it’s horror counterparts. Veronica’s mother uttering ominously “I need you to grow up” framing the narrative for the rest of the film.
Sandra Escacena is mesmorising in the title role, managing to capture both child-like innocence and a building anger and passion, all the torment of hormonal teenage years coming out in rage filled bursts, which may or may not be related to a summoned demon. Her siblings are also superb, with the two bickering twin sisters Irene and Lucia (played by Bruna Gonzalez and Claudia Placer) displaying sass and verve, while young Antonito (Ivan Chavero) manages to be supremely cute without being irritating.
The special effects are largely practical and in-camera, which is when the projection of Veronica’s haunting is at it’s most effective. Indeed the appearance of the children’s father is an image that will remain with me for a long time. Some appearances of the spirit are a little hokey, but these are always the moments when we see the horror through the childrens’ eyes.
The real test of effective horror isn’t so much the experience while viewing, but what it does to you afterwards and somehow Veronica got firmly under my skin, making me sure I’d firmly locked my doors before going to bed.
Like ‘The Babadook’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ before it, ‘Veronica’ works best when it is rooted in the claustrophobia of family life and the terror of both childhood and adulthood. The hokum of being based on true events should remain secondary to what is an excellent piece of coming of age horror.
Abbie’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Director: Paco Plaza
Starring: Sandra Escacena, Bruna González, Claudia Placer