The atmospheric [REC] franchise, with its religious motifs and diseased zombies, has, even with the not-so-great last couple of chapters, cemented a reputable place in the annals of horror. Directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró thus give us good reason to get excited when a new project of theirs arises. Four years after running the show on Evil Dead 2-esque REC 3: Genesis, Plaza returns in solo capacity to shatter nerves in Spain and abroad with Veronica, currently streaming on Netflix.
The year is 1991 and teenager Verónica (Sandra Escacena) has had to grow up faster than some. Whilst her mother works long shifts at a café, Veronica takes on all the housekeeping duties, including looking after her younger siblings. We’re told that Veronica’s father has recently passed away and it’s because of this, along with the stress of raising her mother’s children, that she turns to trying to communicate with him via Ouija board. Unfortunately, performing the ritual with two friends during a solar eclipse turns out not to be the optimum methodology to reaching out to your dead father, and it soon becomes apparent that the girls have invited something over from ‘the other side’.
Having been followed home by an apparition, Veronica’s apartment in sunny Madrid becomes a gothic castle where, like Arthur Kipps in The Woman in Black, she becomes increasingly aware of the creature’s presence and its desire to hurt her. After the bombastic viciousness of REC, Veronica sees Pablo working with a lighter set of tools, and a large part of the film is spent sitting in anticipation of when the apparition will attack.
Plaza’s softly-softly approach means that as the film barrels along and ratchets up the spectacle, something is lost. And to be honest, taken as a whole, Veronica is just not as good as you want it to be. Plaza puts everything on the table to serve a rollicking possession film, but the larger issue is that everything he does can’t distinguish itself from films like Ouija or A Haunting in Connecticut, to name but a few similar outings. It’s just a fairly simple story of possession that snowballs, as expected, into a finale filled with screaming and jump scares. It all feels a bit tired.
The most successful moments are those that play with the audience’s mind. Plaza often has his boogieman just off sight, stirring up confusion as to whether we actually did see anything. It’s subtle trick that’s worked in the likes of the BBC’s spoof live show Ghostwatch to much less grandiose affairs such as the VOD feature Infernal. Equally successful is Consuelo Trujillo performing as the portent of doom, Sister Death. It feels as though most horror films are missing a blind, chain-smoking nun; we just didn’t realise it till now.
Strangely, the film is bookended with claims that this based on a true story and how this was the first instance of a haunting being officially recognised on police records. Admittedly, this is just the equivalent of The Midnight Society introducing their tales in Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and shouldn’t be met with too much scorn. However, it just feels a bit cheap, as if the film is fishing for another franchise. And maybe they are; after all, Sister Death appears to have a few battle scars that could crop up in a prequel or two.
Starting off strong before evening out into something tepid, Veronica is the kind of film you want to succeed, which makes its failure to do so even more disappointing.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10