Veronica review Paco Plaza Sandra EscacenaYear: 2018 (US release)
Director(s): Paco Plaza
Writer(s): Fernando Navarro, Paco Plaza
Region of Origin: Spain

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: n/a
Digital, Color, 105 mins

Synopsis: Madrid, 1991. A teen girl finds herself besieged by an evil supernatural force after playing Ouija with two classmates. (Source)

Too often, horror films are the same ‘ol song and dance. We know the tricks of the trade, we expect them, and the final effort is something sadly content with base-level thrills. Veronica, from Rec director Paco Plaza, immediately sets itself apart from the pack. Though it doesn’t rewrite the rulebook, Plaza’s latest proves that the familiar can feel new when in the right hands. Pulling from true-life tragedy, the film has has enough character and style to stand on its own two legs, blending atmosphere and unsettling jolts with a strong emotional backbone. With its incredible performances and Paco’s attention to horrifying detail, the film renders chilling catharsis to a terrifying mystery.

In the wake of her father’s death, Veronica (Sandra Escacena) has stepped up to take care of her family. Her mother is always at work, so she watches over her three younger siblings, shuffling everyone to school each morning and making sure that they’re safe at night. During an eclipse, however, the burdened Veronica and two friends sneak off, hoping to use a Ouija board to commune with the dead – in Veronica’s case, her father. The seance concludes with Veronica in a trance, waking up much later with no recollection of what happened. From here, it’s apparent that something evil has taken ahold of her, as strange phenomena begin to occur around the household. Soon, Veronica can’t shake visions of her family being threatened by shadowy figures, and soon has difficulty separating nightmares from reality. As things come to a boiling point, Veronica’s forced into an all out war for her life and those that she holds closest.

What elevates the film, is Plaza’s unparalleled eye for tension and otherworldly terror, supplementing a haunting story with genuine sincerity. In this way, Plaza puts Veronica and her family front and center, first immersing us into each siblings’ bond in order to generate undeniable stakes. Once the film organically transforms into a shock-a-minute thriller, Plaza eschews jump scares and subverts expectation with intricately staged, gradually escalating confrontations. The subtle and the mundane suddenly make us reevaluate Veronica’s modest surroundings, perverting what should be a safe apartment into a hostile environment in which no one’s at rest. By making the supernatural literally right at home, we never feel like we’re less than alongside the action, a trait that pays off during the film’s intense, final act. With such a grounded approach, the film scares and affects on equal level, boasting intricate set pieces alongside an exploration of challenged familial bonds.

Veronica review Paco Plaza Iván Chavero Sandra EscacenaGiving the film its earned humanity, is an ensemble lined with young, convicting talent. As the titular character, Sandra Escacena builds a wholly sympathetic heroine, one torn between duty and teenage curiosity. Escancena’s love for her family is what anchors the entire film, giving it its heart and making every scare feel urgent. The rest of the cast is filled out by some incredible cute kids (Ivan Chevero is MVP), instantly making us afraid for their well-being and wondering who is gonna bite it next. Also of note, Consuelo Trujillo is a standout as blind-nun dubbed Sister Death, a character who is as cool as she sounds. Trujillo gets a few scenes to shine, filling out some fun mythology and adding to the film’s eerie tone.

If there’s one thing I haven’t stressed enough, it’s that Plaza’s pulled off something that gets under our skin. The film’s psychological terror and oppressive dread is unyielding, lending a strong foundation of fear that scares with meaning and weight. Fans of the possession genre will get more than their fill, with Plaza’s aggressive theatrics amping up what might’ve been generic. While the film’s true story remains somehow even more tragic than the final result, what Plaza’s done ain’t no slouch, making this a horror event film that’s easily a must-see.