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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Veronica (2017) Horror Possession Ouija

Veronica (2017) - Director Paco Plaza made a big splash in 2007 with the film [Rec] it really hit big. Its tight quarters and excellent use of the found footage technique made it a favorite in the horror community. He followed it with some would contest an even better sequel [Rec] 2 (2009) which really established him as a creator to watch for. Even though the third in the series [Rec] 3 : Genesis (2012) was accepted with less enthusiasm Plaza was on the radar of many a horror fan. Veronica is the first feature since and I have to say when my daughter sent me a link to the trailer I was excited to see it. Now with the film streaming on Netflix I am more than happy to watch it and write down a few thoughts. It is impossible for me not to spoil movies in some way. In this case Plaza is a really good director and so I want to write about the shot choices he makes. Sometimes this adds way too much story context to the review so be warned SPOILERS may abound.
 Ouija: Origins of Evil (2016) what will the market be for another film based around that game just a year later? Chances are that work on Veronica started well before "Ouija" was released but as is often the case similar subjects in film often pop up around the same time. This sometimes make for unfair comparisons which is something I will avoid here, but can hurt the popularity of the later film. Or if the first film bombs that fact turning viewers off from seeing that subject mater again so soon. There is a flip side that someone wants more also but it's hard not to make comparisons. I promise to speak no more of that other film.
There is a risk this film may be finding an audience that appreciates its subtlety. With the success of
  This is a film with starts with a mystery, a call to the police where the person on the phone is frantic about someone being in her house. We see the police heading to the apartment building while listening to the frightened person on the phone. They arrive and find there way inside, dark halls greet them as they make there way into the apartment flashlights and guns in hand. A cross on the floor is rehung by the detective. They enter a room and all we get is some strange squishy sounds a shot of the horrified faces of the police. It's a decent start that shows us nothing of whats to come but indicates that it won't be nice. I better see what the cops see by the end of the movie or I will be disappointed.
  We cut to three days earlier we see Veronica (Sandra Escacena) getting up to start the morning routine. She is maybe 14. She wakes her three young siblings, Lucia (Bruna González), Irene (Claudia Placer) and Antonito (Iván Chavero) and gets them ready for school. She makes a point to keep them quiet while her mother who works late hours sleeps. Before leaving the house she picks up and resets the crucifix that has come off the wall, letting us all know that this is the apartment the police entered in the opening. Off to school a caring older sister with too much responsibility. Veronica is a 14 year old thrown into a caregiver role after her Father's death. Her Mother now runs the family pub by herself and is stretched to thin to take care of her children besides earning the money needed by the family. It is also a driving force for the plot that brings the scares. She misses her Dad and it motivates her to bring in a Ouija board and to study how to talk to the dead with it. This simple need the girl has escalates into the crisis that is the plot of the film.
  At School the subject matter is the coming eclipse and how the ancient peoples of the world believed they were evil and would often do human sacrifice when one occurred to appease their Gods. A significant setup for Veronica who has her Ouija board so she and her friends, Diana (Carla Campra) and Rosa (Ánglela Fabián) can play at it while everyone in the school is on the roof looking at the eclipse. The three girls head to the basement to talk to her father through it. We cut between the two scenes, the school on the roof watching the eclipse and the girls using the board in the basement. It is just wonderfully creepy when the other two girls need to take their hands off the glass because it grew too hot, while Veronica does not feel the heat of it at all. She is the chosen and it happened at the evil time of the solar eclipse. The girls get scared and supernaturally things happen that let us know spirits are about. It goes sort of wrong with Veronica the focus so much so the other girls are scared. The editing between the roof and the girls is great and with the earlier classroom talk make a really firm connection between the eclipse and the girl's experience. The foreshadowing with the blind nun is well done also, Plaza sets things up by showing us without having to tell us and as viewers we should appreciate that.
  Veronica now has to deal with what she encountered. There is quite a bit of Christian religious symbolism here with crucifixes , nuns and the such that add the the eerie feel of the setup. Plaza has some nice shots from over head or from low looking up at the schools blind nun who one of the kids calls "Sister Death" (who is good for some exposition later on) and we know from the previous scenes that something supernatural did happen to Veronica, so we are ready for the slow revealing of the consequences of what the three girls did. Is this a possession? Strange things start happening and Veronica knows they are. The Ouija board moving from it's hiding place, her incident with the television, the marks on her shoulder all point towards something coming for her. It is when her little brother gets burned by bath water that we see that she is not the only one at risk.
The script does a really good job reminding us that she is a kid herself. Her older friends Diana and Rosa are ostracizing her having been freaked out by the  Ouija session. Still Veronica even though she is younger confronts this. She can make it up by going to a party Diana is throwing. She can get back into this click. Unfortunately the realty that she cares for her siblings is never far from sight.  From dealing with complaints from the lady downstairs to getting the kids clothed and fed each day she is the adult. Instead of support from a peer group she is left to try to figure out her situation on her own. When the things she try don't work she realizes that the threat is really not just for her but for the whole family. An incident leads to a chance to get help from her Mother but that help is not there for her either. She is isolated and will have to deal with this herself.
  It's an interesting thing that all the decisions she makes as the adult in the family seem so right. She loves her siblings and shows it to them throughout the film. It is the decision she made as her 14 year old girl self that has the real negative consequences. Then when she believes that the spirit, the consequence of her actions is real her Mother is incredulous believing she is acting like a child, and expresses she needs her to be the reliable adult. Netflix is selling this film as one of the scariest of all time and that certainly is not fair. Good horror is not necessarily the scariest. In fact the best horror allows the viewer to care about the characters making real for the viewer the horror the characters are experiencing. This film does that we are voyeur of the family and we care about the kids and Veronica as people. So when Veronica has her really disturbing dreams they are not just frightening to her but we are frightened for her.  They second dream coming after the talk with her mother and being the on the cusp of her first period plays well into the real family drama that we are experiencing through her. ( A side note the camera shot of her laying in bed and the getting up is really well done.) She realizes that the children she cares for are at risk and instead of relying on adults she seeks the answers she needs to end the haunting. Again the blind nun is used for exposition and it leads Veronica to the place where she has to fix her mistake in the Ouija ritual, fixing a child's mistake to solve the problem of the spirit following her and allow her to continue to be the adult.
  Can she do it alone and without her school friends who are over the incident and do not want to revisit it. A telling information is shared by Rosa about what Veronica whispered when she was under the influence of the Ouija board. She is spiraling as we head to the climax, with no help from friends or family and the dread that comes with knowing what she whispered, torn by her mother's inability to notice her stress enough to intercede. She ends up alone with her siblings trying to fix her mistake but with her little sisters and brother in the know. The climax has important little details so pay attention.
  Knowing the opening scene we have a general idea how things go. The climax has a mix of setup, the kids and Veronica setting up another session with the Ouija board. Kids don't make good stand ins and this as we say in the horror world is where go horribly wrong. The climax is wonderfully seeded and it is so dread filled for those poor little kids, Veronica included. Some great shots by Plaza as he builds the anticipation of the shit hitting the fan. This one strikes particularly close to home for me because as a child I was in a few terrifying situations and understand the mania a group of children can have at a time of crisis. As the final scenes unfold we are reminded about the connection between the coming of adolescence and mental instability. Like in the film The Witch (2015) we see a young woman hitting puberty and the effects of the events on her life in the most horrifying way. Still The structure is set in the beginning where we know this is seen by the police, but in the moment it is about a spirit not leaving Veronica and we were promised a final shot.  The lead up  to the final scene the one promised in the beginning is some really fine work by the director and cinematographer using mirror projections very effectively.
  I really loved this film. The family characters, the dynamic of the teen and the supernatural were so well meshed that it hit all the rights spots as far as depth of character within a story. You cared for Veronica and her siblings and even though the outcome was not the happiest. Set in 1991 I appreciate the music when Veronica was listening to her head phones, Heroes del silencio, I think. Camera work was exceptional with interesting shots that added to the mood of the film. I am not sure we needed the true story aspect of the film with the police bookends but it was not too intrusive. I hope there is no backlash over being called the "scariest film of the year". What it is is a wonderfully executed horror drama where you can care about the characters. Plaza and cinematographer Pablo Rosso for the great look and movement of this film. It is very good and should be seen by as many people as possible.


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