Veronica movie review: Netflix horror film offers scares, tenderness, tension and intriguing protagonist
When Rec came out in 2007, it represented a turning point in the much-maligned genre of found footage horror. This Spanish language film became an instant classic, spawned a largely successful franchise, a couple of customary American remakes — predictably dry and drab — and made director Paco Plaza a horror director for the future. Here was a person who had the smarts to leverage the advantages the found footage genre offered with its limited set-up, carefully removing the extra fat that had derailed so many good stories previously. Rec and Rec 2, more than anything else, remain terrifyingly propulsive narratives, grabbing hold of the audience by the throat and refusing to let go till their memorable climaxes.
Veronica, Netflix’s latest addition to its horror roster, is Plaza’s most thematically complex and ambitious work till date. It is a character study, a coming-of-age tale, a psychological thriller and a horror film, all at once. For a film that attempts to saddle multiple themes while staying true to its genre roots, even failure would have been quite laudable. But Plaza etches his lead character, Veronica, with remarkable empathy of detail, and newcomer Sandra Escacena’s assured performance holds the film together during its shaky moments.
Fifteen-year-old Veronica is the eldest of four kids living with a mother who’s usually away working trying to make ends meet after her husband’s passing. Vero, as she’s affectionately called by everyone, is having a hard time saying goodbye to her father. One day at school, she gets a few friends together to perform a seance and summon her father’s spirit. Things go wrong, as they often do in horror films, and her life turns on its head from that moment. A new presence makes its way to Vero’s apartment and it is up to her to ensure the safety of her family.
As the reader must have noticed, there is a common tendency to critically dismiss or simply ignore the horror genre. The reasons are multifarious. They are accused of being vehicles of titillation or cheap entertainment that exploits primal human responses. But the best films in this category are always cognisant of their genre roots and manage to overlay them with social and human commentary of titanic proportions. In so doing, they turn into able vehicles of propagating ideas, without compromising on the entertainment factor.
Plaza understands this structure all too well. By donning different thematic hats, he cleverly employs the strength of one to nullify and steer clear of the excesses of the other. His film is a thematic patchwork, a reflection of the inner world of its lead character, who’s pulled and pushed by different forces throughout the film. She’s not always in command of these forces and it shows in her relationship with her younger brothers and sisters, who look up to her for navigating through daily life while mum’s away. The film can appear too chaotic for its own good at places. But it’s simply because as a character study it mirrors the state of mind of its protagonist who’s all too young to be asked to grow up so quickly.
Imagine all the confusions of being a teenager, your father gone forever, mother almost always away working, three children to take care of at home, studies, friends who think you’re always busy to spend time with them and a body and mind coming to terms with a blossoming sexuality. Now try putting these within the generic umbrella of a horror film, often considered too flippant for tackling serious stuff. But Plaza rises to this task in superlative fashion. Supported by an incredible first-time performer, he crafts a mature film that is too wise to judge any of its characters. And yet not once does he forget his genre roots. The film is chock full with steadily growing terror, resulting in a climax where all hell breaks loose. And then some. Plaza’s cut his teeth in the art of building cinematic tension with the Rec series. He pours all that experience into crafting a film that’s beautiful, moving, deeply-felt, bold and inventive.
The dexterity with which the director balances one theme against the other is made clear in the scene where Vero experiences her first period. Coming as it does quite late for her age, and that it follows a night full of nightmares, she’s already very distressed and anxious. She turns around to see her blood on the mattress. A few moments later, it is followed by her turning over the mattress to discover another huge stain left by a presence, which may or may not be her father’s. A turning point in her life is literally mirrored by a turning point in the film. The film is full of such seemingly chance encounters that are cleverly arranged by a director working at his best.
Armed with a terrific lead performance and a director whose ambition is ably matched by his maturity, Veronica offers all the excitement of a genre film while remaining firmly anchored in a deeply moving character study. Veronica shall be remembered as a great blend of scares, tenderness, slowly mounting tension and an intriguing central character. Plaza creates images that will linger with the audience for time to come. Its immediate impact is visible in the multiple nominations the film has received at Spain’s highest film awards, the Goyas. This writer, for one, eagerly awaits what this major horror director decides to do next.
Updated Date: Mar 02, 2018 14:32 PM