Fans called 'Veronica' Netflix's scariest possession movie. Is it?
In one of the opening scenes of Veronica, the fourteen-year-old title character (Sandra Escacena in her debut role) enlists two friends to contact her father’s spirit through a Ouija game. During a historic eclipse, the girls attempt to contact their loved ones, but their well-intentioned game goes horribly wrong. Veronica's friends Rosa (Ángela Fabián) and Diana (Carla Campra) start avoiding her after the ritual. Suddenly thrust into the uncertain world of the paranormal with her young siblings to care for, Veronica begins to wonder if her game summoned a malevolent spirit...or her father. She experiences hallucinations, bad dreams, and creepy events she just can't explain, like the Ouija board repeatedly falling off the top of her closet.
Veronica is based on a true story; it is bookended by a 911 call and police report of the "real life" scene of the events. Veronica cares for her three younger siblings while her widowed mother works full time. She is frustrated with the responsibilities she has had to take on since her father's death. We follow Veronica's daily life with slick edits that glide the family from breakfast to school to dinner to bedtime. She has little time for herself and when she finally gets to rest, she is haunted by mysterious forces.
The Spanish horror film is touted by some fans as Netflix’s “Scariest Movie Ever," a qualifier that is certainly hard to prove. Narrowing the question down to just movies on Netflix that feature possession horror, this movie is up against The Exorcist, The Witch, Evil Dead, Paranormal Activity, and The Omen, just to name a very select few. These are all movies that I would consider to be scarier than Veronica, but terror, like any emotion connected to a genre, is subjective. To attempt to qualify it in some way, factors contributing to scariness would include originality, sound design, acting, script, lighting, and other technical aspects that contribute to the film's mise en scene. We could talk about these aspects all day, so let's stick to just a few facets that make a movie "the scariest," and why Veronica definitely doesn't need to be the scariest to be a really effective movie.
Let's face it, kids using Ouija boards is hardly an original concept in the year 2017. Veronica has a foggy, amorphous idea of what this movie's possession horror should center around, and none of it is groundbreaking. To truly be a terrifying movie, you have to show your audiences things they've never seen before—and this doesn't do that in any memorable ways.
Veronica is heavily influenced by its contemporaries like It Follows and the Paranormal Activity franchise. It offers a smattering of unusual imagery—see the prominently marketed "mouth still" above—that has the latent potential to be a viral sensation. That mouth still and accompanying footage are wicked cool, but still, are they really amongst the scariest of the scary? Calling a movie "the scariest" or "the saddest" or "the funniest" or any all-encompassing descriptor is setting it up for subjective comparisons.
A movie doesn't need to be "the scariest" ever to be masterful at capturing an audience and keeping them too terrified to look away.
Veronica's smart production makes this film look great. There are a lot of technical aspects that are excellent, from the moody blue and yellow lighting the film is drenched in, to the energetic camera work, to the smooth transitions between scenes.
Child acting can be hit or miss, but the acting in Veronica is genuine and sweet. Veronica’s siblings, Lucia (Bruna González), Irene (Claudia Placer), and Antonito (Iván Chavero) are all quite convincing as Veronica’s young charges. The family is easy to empathize with and this is a critical part of Veronica's horror. We see the kids bickering over their homework, playing together, and eating meals, they're all innocent and adorable.
The film takes place in 1991 Madrid, a time period which necessitated the use of landline phones, passing notes in class, or physically going to someone’s house instead of using an iPhone. The 90’s setting suits this movie; the costuming and warm, homey set design look genuine without trying too hard. The kids whisper over walkie talkies, play with popular 90's toys like an electronic "Simon Says," and sing along to commercials on the old TV.
There a few cliché red herrings which don’t pan out, but they're still fun and they help to stir Veronica's creeping anxiety. The film takes horror tropes to the level of satire; for example there is a creepy blind nun named Sister Death, and the fateful Ouija game takes place during an eclipse that we're told is is "ideal for human sacrifice".
There are plenty of scary moments that will satisfy fans of both jump scares and slow burn terror. There are some terrifying events involving Veronica’s closet that might creep you out, and if you weren’t already scared of Ouija boards, well, this might change your mind. The third act steals the show with panicky scenes that are pure nightmare fuel. Veronica is well worth the watch: Paco Plaza's newest hit may not be the scariest movie ever, but instead has the has the scary, joyful exuberance of an inspired filmmaker trying to impress.