Monday 16 October 2017
The Vay Ve Ver
2017 Spain Directed by Paco Plaza
London Film Festival Monday 15th October
So the fourth of my 2017 London Film Festival screenings was Verónica, a new film directed by Paco Plaza, who was the co-director of the first two excellent [REC•] movies and solo director of the third of the four (which I personally thought was slightly less successful when it jettisoned the ‘found footage’ first person POV style of filmmaking a little way into the running time). The film is purported (according to the various captions at the start and end of the movie... more on those later) to be inspired by the unknown events which build up to the lead detective of a police team arriving at a potential ‘crime scene’ and going on to file the first official report in Spanish history to go on record saying the investigating team were a witness to paranormal activity. Now, I’d kinda like to believe that’s true and several sources on the internet seem to be taking that claim as fact but... I can’t find anything on the real story on the internet either so... not 100% sure I’d take that with anything less than a pinch of salt but, on the other hand, just because I can’t find anything about it in English on the internet, doesn’t mean to say there’s not loads about it in Spanish, I guess.
Now I’ve got a lot of respect for this director because, a number of years ago now, he did something with that first [REC•] film that I really wasn’t expecting from anyone. That is, he took the zombie genre (well, not quite zombies but close enough) and made it frightening again. Well, I say again but I’m not really certain the zombie genre ever really was that frightening, to be honest and... yeah, he made a zombie film which was genuinely scary, rather than just being another ‘body count’ movie. So that was good.
Here he takes the ‘demonic thing summoned by people messing around with a Ouija board’ genre and, although I have to say that he didn’t really succeed in making this film in any way scary, he did make a really fun film which hits up on all the genre clichés and which had some good one liners in it... which, I’m happy to say, had the audience laughing out loud.
Set in the early 1990s, the film has a strong opening which is very similar to the ‘journey to the apartment block in the original [REC•] in that it seems to be shot first person and it’s a rush of chaos as the police respond to the panicked phone call for urgent help, which you hear on the soundtrack as their vehicles rush through the streets to their destination. The lead detective bursts in and we see a shot of the title character, played astonishingly believably by actress Sandra Escacena, her face in close up, head bent back as she screams... except it’s not a scream, it is a yawn and the soundtrack bleeds off to reveal that this is her waking up one morning, three days earlier.
It’s a nice transitional shot and what Plaza does here, since it’s obvious he’s using this ‘documentary style’ opening as a framing device, is tell you that, as an audience you’re going to have to survive three nights of paranormal scare tactics before you catch up to that bookend sequence. And he doesn’t lose any time in setting up the story. Veronica is the oldest of her three siblings - two sisters and one brother - and she has to get them, and herself, ready for school each day because her mother works truly unsociable hours in a nearby cafe. However, Veronica misses her dead father and wants to attempt to communicate with him so, while all the rest of the children and staff of the convent school which they go to are up on the roof watching the eclipse, Veronica and two friends go to a kind of abandoned basement to have a ‘Ouija session’. Now, even my own mother instilled in me, from an early age, not to mess around with those things based on her own experience of one and, right enough, in best movieland tradition, things start going wrong for Veronica right from the start and she lets in some kind of demonic presence to do all the usual horror movie clichés for the rest of the movie.
As I said earlier, the film is not breaking any original ground here but it is nice to have a pulpy horror yarn which is as entertaining as this one. It feels like one of those ‘comfort horror’ movies you can watch when you’re on your own and, helpfully, all the main actors, mostly children, are all very good in this. We also get a nicely spooky turn from Consuelo Trujillo as the blind nun who seems to be able to watch what’s going on anyway (she even watches the eclipse without the use of her eyes) and who is nicknamed by the students as Sister Death. She, alone, of all the adults in the story, can see that a demonic entity is walking with Veronica and she’s a great character. There’s a nice throwaway line here as one of the other nuns guides her out of the basement which neither Veronica or Sister Death should be in and Death says something along the lines of... “You can find the answers in the book!” To which the other nun adds, “There. You see what good advice she gives?”... which got another big laugh from the audience, I can tell you.
There’s some nice photography involved such as shots of the stars stuck onto the ceiling of Veronica’s bedroom superimposed over what else is going on and the camera does the usual roving around Veronica’s apartment to make the audience look for things in the background, which seems to be a common element of contemporary horror films. Like I said, Plaza’s not exactly reinventing the wheel here but he is, at least, making sure that wheel is a well oiled piece of machinery. Enough to get you to the end destination in style.
And that’s pretty much all I’ve got to say about Verónica. The characters are sympathetic and you really don’t want to see anything bad happen to them. There are a few jump scares, some of which did somehow manage to catch out some of the audience and the bookend sequence at the end continues Plaza’s preoccupation with the documentary feel of the piece with... allegedly... the actual, real life photographs of the aftermath of the 'event' in the apartment that inspired this movie used as accompanying illustrations on the end credits. I didn’t realise that until afterwards because, to me, the pictures looked just the same as the environments in which the film takes place so... good job to whoever did that, I guess. At the end of the day, though, inspired by real life or not, scary or not, the film is a solidly entertaining horror tale and there’s always room for that. It’s certainly more interesting than a lot of the ‘teen horror’ tales which have been doing the rounds just lately so... maybe take a look at this one if it gets any kind of cinema release in your country.