Verónica (Spanish, 2017)

3 out of 5

Directed by: Paco Plaza

Verónica, director Paco Plaza’s 2017 “scariest movie of all time” “loosely based on true events” doesn’t come close to qualifying for that first quote (something that was admittedly bandied about by questionable sources) and is as loose as any horror flick using that latter phrase as promotion.  Still, despite the predictable seance-gone-wrong setup for the titular teen, Plaza does a lot really well in-frame – including wrestling a mainly youthy cast (Verónica’s two younger sisters and younger brother) into believable but not obnoxious roles –  it’s just that, especially contrary to what I’ve quoted, I kept wishing it was scarier.  There was a lot of potential to go subtle with malevolent spirits and creepy events; Plaza includes a lot of the latter, and I was really a big fan of how repeating elements (sounds; lights) were used to drift from common to creepy as the mood changed.  But then these organic elements had to battle with CGI shadows and over-seen creepers.  Captured by a confident, swooping camera, which keeps us very, very focused on each and every scene by playing with reflections, and with point of view, but not explicitly cutting away, the material is absolutely elevated.  I was pleased watching the movie while noting each missed fright opportunity.

The wraparound element that’s intended to underline the purported true event is unfortunately something of a giveaway, making you know that things have to build to a certain point before breaking.  There’s also, perhaps inevitably, the REC-ish religiosity, with crosses and prophesy-speaking nuns, but besides being ingrained in the culture, it doesn’t really seem to matter to much to the film…

Actually fairly tame, Paco Plaza’s Verónica is an expertly made spirit-tinged thriller, engaging in its visualized precision and well-directed performances, if not really equating to much more than an average spook flick.