Monday, October 29, 2018

The Halloween List: Veronica and... Veronica?

Let's talk about two great movies.

They both came out in 2017.

They both came out in August of 2017.

They're Spanish-language.

They're both Horror movies.

They're both called "Veronica."

Yeah, somehow a Horror movie got a doppleganger. They caused a SEO nightmare for any of us not in their home countries. One came out in Spain and the other in Mexico, and both were extremely difficult to import to the U.S. until Netflix added them. The thing is that these two movies are utterly excellent and nothing alike.

And Netflix added them both in the same month, just to further the doppleganger curse.

VerĂ³nica (Mexican)

This is a Psychological Thriller about a disturbed psychologist who has a young patient thrust upon her. We don’t know why the psychologist quit practicing, or why she lives so far from civilization. Being a Psychological Thriller, we figure the secrets are dark, especially since she keeps locked rooms everywhere, and her new hobby is drilling holes into dead trees.

The patient – named Veronica – doesn’t want to be secluded in the mountains with her psychologist, and keeps pushing boundaries. In an effort to protect herself against facing her own trauma, Veronica pries into what the psychologist has hidden in her own life and locked up around her property. It becomes a cat-and-mouse game of who will make the other vulnerable first. It becomes more uncomfortable as we uncover clues about what’s gone wrong for both of them, and surprisingly, hits its fever pitch when we realize Veronica could be helped. The resistance to the very real hard work of facing abuse is palpable.

This is a two-person show. Olga Segura and Arcella Ramirez deserve enormous credit for their chemistry and creativity. We see several sessions between them, which never get redundant thanks a little to the script, and much more to the developing attraction between the two of them. The relationship they have is wrong and headed for worse, but the people they insist on being is also wrong. Both actresses carry themselves in at least two psychologies at all times. You could not ask for more from two people charged with carrying an entire movie shot inside one house.

Most of the movie is presented in black and white, with some color usage tied to breakthroughs. It goes to the film’s core of being about isolation and deprivation. The movie can only breathe once they’re honest, and waiting makes us ache. The two characters are wearing the safe social masks of being a brat and being a dispassionate therapist. What’s pushing them towards an ominous fate is their refusal to share, and the twisted things they’ll do to avoid sharing.

Originally I thought this was Paco Plaza’s Veronica. Paco Plaza is most famous for creating [REC], which is one of the best Found Footage and Zombie movies ever made. It’s naturalistic, grounded, pulse-pounding, frenetic and messy. That he’d turned around and made this cerebral black-and-white character study was awesome. One person capable of creating two such movies could be the most promising director alive.

Of course, I was a fool. This movie is by Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez-Beltran. It’s not even from the same country as [REC]; I just didn’t know because I can’t hear Spanish dialects well.

The movie Paco Plaza actually made is quite different.

Veronica (Spanish)

Over on the other side of everything is this movie. Veronica is one of the strongest possession/haunting films of the decade, up there with The Conjuring and The Wailing. It’s easily the creepiest movie yet to make use of the Ouija Board mythos.

Ouija Boards were a 20th century game manufacturer’s idea. They have no magic. But any of us can bring magic to the boards, just as much as a witch brings it to a broom or a wand. Veronica is a 15-year-old girl whose father is dead and whose mother works almost twenty-four hours a day. She goes to school and takes care of her three younger siblings as best she can. With her scraps of free time, she tries to impress a few girls to be her friends, which includes agreeing to play with a Ouija board.

You know what happens next. Paranormal activity swells around Veronica, coming for her, and worse, seeming to go after any of her siblings she isn’t watching right now. There’s a scene where she tries to give her little brother a bath and something is happening in the next room with her sisters, and the anxiety is terrible because you know whatever is watching her will strike the one she doesn’t watch. As much as there’s peril for her being attacked, there’s also a weaponized fear of being distracted when looking after small children.

Which brings us to Veronica’s siblings. This movie has a cast of child actors up there with Emilie and Let the Right One In, utterly believable in how easily influenced they are by their big sister’s doubts and fears. They pick on each other in the small ways that children know are safe from reproach, and push the boundaries without being hateable. The kids must have spent a long time together to get so used to each other, because they feel like a believable unit, all following their sister’s orders for however long they have to, while still craving to run off and sing or play.

The tightly knit sibling dynamic makes the hauntings harder because sometimes the face of the haunting is their father. Only Veronica sees him, usually in silhouette, but she can’t deny whose silhouette it is. That it’s stalking them, and possibly trying to drag them to the other side, adds to the psychological burden of a girl who already has this family sitting on her shoulders.

Frenetically shot and cut, the movie makes the most of its family and mysteries. This feels like a movie from the director of [REC], which is a good thing. It’s a movie that’s paced briskly, and where the characters are digging in against the terrors no matter how overwhelming they are.

Coming up, our grand finale of The Mummy, The Mummy, The Mummy, and The Mummy!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks. I am not likely to see either of them, but thank you.


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