When a movie is dubbed the scariest movie of all time, I immediately think “here we go again”. So many horror films use that tagline to drive more viewers into the theaters, but when a foreign movie put on Netflix uses that phrase my interest is peaked. The film in question is a movie from Spain called Veronica written and directed by Paco Plaza. Plaza is known mostly for the REC trilogy in the found footage horror genre, also from Spain. The film stars Sandra Escacena as the title character Veronica, Bruna González and Claudia Placer as Veronica’s twin sisters Lucia and Irene, Iván Chavero as the adorable little brother Antoñito, and Ana Torrent as Veronica’s mother. The film is loosely (very strong on the loosely) based on the story of Estefania Gutierrez Lázaro, who fell ill after having a seance at school which was interrupted by a teacher. The teacher ripped apart the Ouija board as any normal person would do. However, Estefania fell ill afterwards and suffered from seizures and severe hallucinations. She died in a hospital in Madrid, Spain in 1991 with her cause of death never known. Her family apparently experienced strong paranormal events, which is in the police report at the end of the movie. The story of her family’s experiences are a legend in Spain which inspired writer/director Plaza.
The film begins in May of 1991 with police officers responding to a call from panicked children saying “He’s in the house”. When the police arrive in the destroyed apartment they witness with horrified faces something that remains off-screen. We then go back three days prior to the police arriving, with Veronica (Escancera) waking up for another normal day. She lives with her three siblings, twin sisters Lucia (González) and Irene (Placer), their little brother Antoñito (Chavero), and their mother Ana (Torrent). Her father recently died and their mother works all day and late nights at a bar to support them. This leaves Veronica, who everyone calls Vero, to care for the children. Such as getting them up in the morning, making them breakfast, walking them to and from school, making them dinner, and getting ready for bed.
While Veronica is getting her siblings ready for school she sneaks into her mother’s room while she sleeps after a late night shift and grabs a picture of her late father and some negatives for the twins to view a solar eclipse that their Catholic school is preparing to view. In Veronica’s class her teacher explains to the class that some cultures viewed solar eclipses as the time for sacrifices and to summon dark spirits. As the class is dismissed to go to the roof to view the eclipse, Veronica and her friend Rosa, along with another classmate named Diana sneak into the basement to conduct a seance. Diana wants to contact her late boyfriend and Veronica wants to contact her father. When the eclipse begins so does the seance. They call to spirits with results right away, with glass sliding all over the Ouija board before finally settling on the image of the sun. Diana and Rosa remove their fingers from the glass as it becomes to hot to touch, with no effect on Veronica. At the exact moment of the eclipse the glass shatters, slicing Veronica’s finger and dripping her blood on the board. The board then splits in two and the candles fall over leaving the girls in darkness. Rosa grabs a flashlight and finds Veronica laying on her back unresponsive, whispering something over and over again. She then lets out a frantic scream as the lights flicker and passes out. She wakes up in the school nurses office who gives her a diagnosis of iron deficiency.
She goes home feeling normal and goes about her normal daily activities of caring for the children. She starts to experience all kinds of paranormal events inside the apartment that I won’t give away here. After a terrifying couple of nights, she drops her siblings off at her mom’s work and goes to see a blind nun, who the kids at the school call Mother Death. The nun tells her that she has to send the “spirits” back and to right what she did wrong. She hurriedly goes and buys another Ouija kit with the occult books she needs to figure out what she did wrong. She learns she must say goodbye at the end of the seance and rushes to find Rosa and Diana to perform another one, but they refuse. She gets her siblings and decides to use them perform the seance, this is when all hell breaks loose. This is as far I’m willing to go in form of a synopsis because the final act has to be watched to really be enjoyed. The film ends with the actual police report from the Estefania Gutierrez Lázaro case in Spain which inspired the film.
Veronica is not the scariest movie of all time, it’s not even the scariest possession movie of all time (that title belongs to The Exorcist and no one call tell me other wise). The film is labelled a horror-thriller, but it works best as a horror-drama. I did not once get the normal jump scare, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a terrifying movie. It didn’t need the jumps or gore that a lot of writers/directors try to put in horror film these days. That has a lot to do Plaza’s directing, which after this film made me want to go back and watch the REC movies. He always left you thinking something was going to jump out, staying on a scene for a few seconds longer then needed which always left me on the edge of my couch cushion. My favorite part of his directing was the use of mirrors and reflections. He was able to use them to show a complete scene without changing camera angles or panning around. It was like watching two different parallel worlds being shot at the same time. The one problem I had with the film was the horror writing aspect, it could have been way stronger. There were plenty of opportunities to scare the hell out of the audience way more but Plaza decided not to take advantage of the scenes he set up. That was a disappointment, but not enough to ruin the movie because the dramatic base of the movie was very well written.
The acting in this film is incredibly strong, which can’t be said for a cast of mostly children. The younger children played the innocence needed to balance the dramatic prowess and fearfulness of the title character to perfection. Sandra Escacena gives an incredible performance that really gives the film the feeling of a great drama. She has a bright future ahead of her and I hope she continues to do horror, but I have a feeling her talents will surpass the genre.
Veronica feels as if you are in a fevered dream that makes you jump out of sleep, drenched in a cold sweat, looking around the room waiting for whatever is in the dark to come get you. It was a terrifying movie without the jumps, leaning heavily on uneasiness and atmosphere that a lot of the newer indie horror movies use to perfection. I always felt on edge and uncomfortable during the more psychedelic scenes, like the feeling of being watched while walking in the woods. I hope Plaza keeps to the horror genre more as a director than a writer and I would love to see him get a chance at an American horror film. While it did not live up to the hype of the scariest movie of all time, I did reach for the remote thinking “Wow, that was a great movie”.