Is there anyone who doesn’t fall for clickbait? Probably not. Most of the times, they’re easy to identify and pass over. So and so “destroys” someone else’s political argument, some device or food is the “Only Thing I Ever Needed”. And I’m a huge fan of browsing creepy old pictures on Pinterest that are described as things that will “Haunt Your Dreams Forever” – you know, this kind of stuff. Generally written to increase traffic by people who copy rather than create, these headlines have permeated the world of online article writing, and mostly serve as penny-click advertising revenue. But like I said, who hasn’t clicked one? My mistake was being curious about the descriptions of Veronica, currently available through Netflix, as being the scariest movie of all time.
Veronica is a 2017 Spanish-language horror movie, written and directed by Paco Plaza, who is known for his work on the Rec movies. In the movie, 15 year old Catholic schoogirl Veronica and two classmates, Rosa and Diana, skip the viewing of a total eclipse to head to the basement of their school to use a cheap ouija board to attempt to contact the dead, specifically Veronica’s father. Of course, things go wrong, and a summoned spirit becomes attached to Veronica, threatening the safety of herself and her three younger siblings.
Ostensibly a “true story”, this movie is reportedly based on some events surrounding the “unexplained” hospitalization and death of a young girl in 1992, but the movie’s structure fails to provide that layer of true story psuedoauthenticity, simply using a weak framing device. Within it, the movie plays out like pretty much every direct-to-streaming PG-13 Paranormal Activity derivative. You have the Catholic School which grounds the movie in religious iconography, you have a creepy blind nun who – even while knowing that the young girl is in danger – only speaks vaguely about the situation to her. You have the tropes of doors opening and closing, things being moved, shadowy figures reflected in such a way that the audience sees them but not the doomed protagonist, even the use of a Ouija Board, one of the most used, least compelling, trope in the genre. The list of things you have seen everywhere before goes on. But here’s the thing: none of these are presented in a “scary” manner. It’s like a movie based on a 15 year old’s creepypasta: if you think it’s familiar, that’s because it is. Just a series of tropes connected by a narrative. While I was skeptical about the hype, I went in hoping to be swayed, because I love a good horror movie – but there’s nothing of any value here whatsoever.
I was impressed by Veronica’s two younger sisters. While they don’t directly contribute much to the plot, and exist only to be threatened by the events, they both bring performances that lend some depth to an otherwise standard plot whenever they appear. Also, I loved the apartment’s design features – but I realized early on that I was more interested by the apartment than I was the scariest movie of all time, this review wasn’t going to go well.
Other than the framing device, there’s one more scene that’s absolutely tacked on – around the midpoint, the specter of Veronica’s deceased father appears naked and uttering her name over and over. The scene exists in a vacuum (he never appears again) as it neither affects the plot or the characters. It is the creepiest scene in the movie, but clearly a visual concept stolen from It Follows, a superior, but still deeply flawed, horror movie about a supernatural entity attached to the living.
It’s too bad that the Internet has latched on to this movie, because there’s clearly no sense that an attempt was being made to make the “scariest movie of all time”. It’s a small, low budget horror movie with good photography and directed by someone who feels like a solid “actor’s director”, but there’s no way Paco Plaza could have expected it to light up the internet the way it did last week, because not only isn’t it that good a horror movie, it’s not that good a horror movie either. It fails the test at pretty much every turn, and its tropes are rolled out unimaginatively, and most of the writing is bland and unadventurous. I’ve seen worse for sure, but the only thing about Veronica that’s truly bad is the score, by Chucky Namanera. It seems to have been designed without any idea about how to score a horror movie, and some of the music is just so bad it ruined scenes designed to heighten the atmosphere (a dream sequence towards the end of Act 2 comes to mind immediately) – but the movie is overall too weak to overcome all of its shortcomings, including this awful score, and the odd decision-making by the protagonist in seemingly being aware enough to call the cops, but never at any time running to a neighbour in a well populated apartment building.
I suppose defenders of the movie will argue that the story might be all in Veronica’s mind, but the added-on scenes and some visuals strongly suggest this is not the case.
© Andrew Hope, 2017
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