Wednesday, January 10, 2018

PSIFF ’18: Veronica

Supposedly, this was the first reported case in Spain when a cop or government authority figure of any stripe admitted to witnessing paranormal phenomenon. Sure it was, just like the Amityville and Conjuring movies are based on true stories. In any event, Det. Romero is in for an eyeful when he responds to a fateful 9-1-1 call. However, before the audience takes in the crime scene, we will watch, in media res, how things got so bad for the title character in Paco Plaza’s Verónica (trailer here), which screens again during the 2018 Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Verónica (Vero) and her friends are about to try contacting the dead with a Ouija board, so that is pretty much all the explanation we need. To further raise the stakes, they are going to do it during an eclipse. Vero wants to speak to her somewhat recently deceased father, but something else crosses over instead. Of course, her fair-weather friends totally freak out, botching the ritual and thereby leaving the evil entity free to stalk Vero. Unfortunately, she is not the only one at risk. Her younger sisters Lucía and Irene, as well as their baby brother Antoñito are also very much in its crosshairs.

Frankly, Vero was already under a lot of stress. Her hardworking barkeep mother basically relies on her to look after her younger siblings. It is not really fair to her, but she accepts the situation out of love and a sense of responsibility. However, protecting them from this uncanny force will be a different proposition entirely.

Not to be confused with the Mexica identity-bending psychological thriller Veronica, Plaza’s Verónica recycles some well-worn horror tropes, but Plaza’s execution is tight and tense. The [REC] franchise co-helmer milks our general fear of the unseen and the specific innate Catholic dread of the demonic for deeply unsettling chills.

Sandra Escacena is a dead-ringer for Shailene Woodley, but she is probably a considerably better thesp. She is terrific working with the young supporting ensemble: Bruna González, Claudia Placer, and Iván Chavero. They really seem like a believably real and dysfunctionally grieving family. Consuelo Trujillo is also spooky as heck as the blind but all-seeing Sister Narcisa, a.k.a. “Sister Death,” while Chema Adeva adds plenty of genre-appropriate rumpled world-weariness in his wrap-around appearances as Romero.

Verónica follows an established arc, but Plaza and co-screenwriter Fernando Navarro come up with some creepy original details that deepen and intensify the atmosphere of mounting anxiety. Supernatural horror is always scarier in Spanish horror films, because the Devil remains a very real presence there—and is probably still ticked off about Franco. Recommended as some meat-and-potatoes for horror fans, Verónica screens again this Saturday (1/13), as part of this year’s PSIFF.