Inspired by true events that took place in 1991 Madrid, Veronica (Verónica, 2017) follows a young girl left to care for the three younger siblings, that their widowed mother has very little time to raise. One day at school, while the other children are on the rooftop viewing the solar eclipse, Veronica and her friends hold a rudimentary seance to communicate with the dead. In their naive attempt to reach her deceased father, the girls unleash an evil spirit that begins to terrorize Veronica and her family.
From the perspective of the officers arriving on-scene at Veronica’s home June 15th 1991, we first see the chaos that waits at the end of Veronica’s story. Onscreen titles tell us that the story presented is based solely on the police reports describing the incident, and the days leading up to it. This thread is mostly abandoned, acting only as bookends to Veronica’s beyond-belief story. Though actual crime scene photos are used in the closing credits, “based on a true story” title-cards and scenes with exact time stamps are presented like evidence without making the audience feel reality that may, or may not exist at the heart of Veronica.
When introducing the film to the TIFF audience, director Paco Plaza (co-director of the [REC] series) explained that teenage girls are perfect for possession films because ‘one day they wake up and they are a different person’. The way their bodies change, the way men begin to look at them; they no longer recognize themselves in the mirror. It’s as though some outside force has taken over their body and transformed them.
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Veronica’s descent into madness is familiar but fresh. The evil slowly gains strength, weakening Veronica‘s will & spirit. Veronica seeks help from a convenient nun (affectionately referred to as Sister Death) who’s seen it all. But it isn’t the possession story that makes Veronica a successful film. What sets Veronica apart is the characters’ expressions of loss and Paco Plaza’s brilliant cinematography.
Leaning on clever in-camera effects and a stellar performance from newcomer Sandra Escacena, Plaza find use for the frenetic techniques learned in [REC] to tell a much quieter, emotionally driven story. While we might expect objects in a room to move about on their own after sundown, how those objects move are what we are ultimately looking for. Fans of genre film understand borrowed structure and universal archetypes, but the use of those elements and how they evolve a story into something unique is the real focus. The biggest surprises come from moments that feel familiar and predictable, until they are not.
A make-or-break moment in so many films is the ‘Things Are Not What They Seem’ shot, and in no uncertain terms, Paco Plaza delivers a sequence of surrealism akin to the closing image of Brain De Palma’s Carrie (1976) or every episode of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990). With a dark and foreboding soundscape, we walk with Veronica as she marches into certain doom. A teenage girl unfamiliar with the world she once thought she knew- trying to navigate her way back to a life that no longer exists.
While Veronica does not re-imagine or re-invent the possession sub-genre, it does breathe new life into it with a fresh voice. While the ending tries to elaborate on ambiguity in previous scenes that could have better established, we do get a sense that the situation was always more grave than expected. While the reprise of the opening scene provides no Aha! moment we leave the film knowing that Veronica‘s attempts to protect her siblings were always ill-fated. Paco Plaza’s first solo directing credit is an impressive departure from the Found Footage films that established his talents as a filmmaker. Veronica undermines our expectations of a traditional supernatural film, reinvigorating a genre for fans that had worried it’s best days were in the rear-view.