Recently played Chicago’s Cinepocalypse!
aka EL EXPEDIENTE
Directed by Paco Plaza
Written by Fernando Navarro, Paco Plaza
Starring Sandra Escacena, Bruna González, Claudia Placer, Iván Chavero, Ana Torrent, Consuelo Trujillo, Ángela Fabián, Carla Campra, Chema Adeva, Miranda Gas, Luis Rallo, Nayara Feito, Carlos Cristino, Gema Matarranz, Samuel Romero, Josu Bravo, Yolanda Arellano, Marisa Zapata, Cristina Zapata, Núria Gago, Natalia Mateo, Sonia Almarcha, Maru Valdivielso, Leticia Dolera
While the Ouija Board is not the most original cog to build a wheel around in a film, what with OUIJA and OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL gracing cineplexes in recent years, Paco Plaza lends some Spanish culture and some real life paranormal accounts to his foray into contacting spirits via Parker Brothers. The result is VERONICA, an intimate and chilling ghost story/possession tale that feels like a distant cousin to Plaza’s previous REC films.
Veronica (Sandra Escacena) is a parentified child, taking care of her three younger siblings while her mother sleeps in having worked the night shift at her restaurant. The film opens with Veronica going through her routine of waking the children up, cooking them breakfast, and getting them to school. We find out that Veronica’s father has passed away, leaving them in the situation they are in, but Veronica seems to still have time to socialize with friends at school. But this is a special day at school as a solar eclipse is occurring and all of the children and nuns running the school are going out to the courtyard to see it. That is, all except Veronica and two of her friends, who snag an old Ouija board and a book of spells in hopes to contact her dead father during this celestial event in the basement of the school. Performing the ritual, Veronica makes contact with something, but it isn’t her dad. When the rite ends abruptly, it is not properly completed, leaving Veronica open for all kinds of demonic and paranormal activity. Beginning with nightmares and ending in full fledged possession, Veronica hopes to reenact the rite in order to properly close the portal and save the souls of herself and her family.
The effectiveness of VERONICA lays on the capable and young shoulders of Escacena who does a phenomenal job of being the center of attention in this film. She plays the responsible child, the angsty teen, and the only adult in the family, yet still is able to shine in a few moments of age appropriate fun with her friends and family. This actress is a natural—beautiful, talented, and able to scream like the dickens, which means I hope to see her in more horror films in the future. Along with the lead, I loved the other child actors involved in this film as each has their own likable, yet scampy personalities that Plaza captures well in the day to day activities we see the family going through. Too many times in film, kids are written as mini adults or forced to do overly cute things. Kids in those films annoy the shit out of me. This family felt natural and one I would love to see more of—reminiscent of the spunky kids in an Spielberg flick who swear and get into trouble, but their hearts are filled with gold. This likability of the children makes it easy to invest in them, which makes the film all the more effective when stuff starts going sideways.
Plaza also manages to show us some haunting and paranormal occurrences that don’t feel like a retread of INSIDIOUS or THE CONJURING, which is not an easy thing to do these days. Wonky camera angles, amazing choices of music, moody lighting, and shadowed imagery make us fear what we don’t see and cringe at what will eventually emerge from the darkness. Some of these effects are practical, some mere contortions of the human body, others CG. Plaza blends them all into the story seamlessly.
One of the smartest decisions Plaza makes in VERONICA is that he hints at the ending in the opening sequence, following a 911 emergency call and focusing on the faces of the responding officers the night Veronica attempts to close the ritual correctly. Knowing when the horror occurs adds mounds of suspension as the narrative then skips three days into the past and a countdown begins to see what it is that scared the responding police so much. While some might find the reveal to be underwhelming, I felt the buildup and execution of that final night was superbly paced and realized. VERONICA is doused in Spanish culture. It is a slice of life of a beleaguered family doing what they need to do to survive and again focuses on the burden thrust upon women—sometimes way too early in their lives. The horror comes from that burden and manifests in the possession that occurs after the ritual. While not overlapping with possession films like THE EXORCIST, the Ouija films, or Adrián García & Ramiro García Bogliano’s PENUMBRA which also dealt with evil events occurring around an eclipse, Plaza manages to do the impossible and make the film unique and stand on its own with the performances he got out of the young cast and the dedication to show us stuff we haven’t seen a million times before. This film was actually based on a real life one—one of the few paranormal events reported and documented by a police officer, this additional detail is the cherry on top of this film which is a potent mixture of familiar elements in a whole new and highly effective package.