The world of horror is vast. With so many films across the spectrum of budget, studio involvement, quality, availability, and, above all else, pure scare-the-living-shit-out-of-you-ness, it helps to have trained professionals parse through some of the older and/or lesser-known offerings. That's where Team Fangrrls comes in with Deep Cuts, our series dedicated to bringing the hidden gems of horror out of the vault and into your nightmares. Today we're looking at Verónica, the Spanish-language horror film you may not be hearing about.
Two Spanish-language horror films were released in 2017, featuring a predominantly female cast, both named Verónica and both of which are currently streaming on Netflix. One of them has been much-touted as one of the scariest movies of all time, so allegedly terrifying that Netflix viewers are turning it off midway through.
I watched the other one.
As I avoided spoilers, it took me longer than I care to admit to realize I wasn't watching the so-scary-you-have-to-turn-it-off-and-watch-GBBO Verónica from Spanish director Paco Plaza, who also made REC. Instead, the film I watched was a tense, black and white mood piece from Mexican directors Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez-Beltran starring Olga Segura and Arcelia Ramirez. Save for a younger version of the titular Verónica and a mostly wordless (but important) mother character, they are the only two people in the film and no men appear on screen at all.
A former psychologist, never named, lives alone in the mountains. She receives a phone call from an old colleague asking her to take on a new patient, Verónica de la Serna. Despite numerous attempts afterward, the psychologist is never again able to contact her friend. For a kind of intense treatment, Verónica stays with the psychologist in her secluded home. Verónica immediately terrifies and intrigues her new doctor. Having endured a deeply buried trauma when she was younger, Verónica now acts out sexually, attempting to seduce her doctor and engaging in very loud late-night self-love.
The actresses are excellent, particularly Ramirez, but the real star is the cinematography, especially when the film reaches its (somewhat foreseeable but not quite in the way I thought it would be) twist. Despite its stunning landscapes, the film is shot with deceptive simplicity and its Hitchcockian influence makes for an exceptionally beautiful viewing. At times the camera is almost hidden so we as the audience feel as though we're watching something we shouldn't be, and others, it lingers only on one actress, very closely. Some moments the camera is completely still, in others a handheld quiver gives us the exact sense of losing control as our psychologist.
In this way, the film is experiential — the tension builds to almost claustrophobic heights. We too are trapped in this house with whatever seems to be happening inside of it. Something is wrong but we can't quite put our fingers on it. Everything exists in this dreamlike state, on the edge of surreal or just slightly medicated. There is a darkness to Verónica, to the psychologist, to this house and this property, even to the mushrooms they eat for every meal. And as it inches to climax, we never feel settled, even when we realize what's truly going on.
This Verónica was by no means replete with jump scares. It didn't have any I can think of, in fact. But with its minimal soundtrack, a deft hand for shot framing, and a ceaseless sense of discomfort, Verónica stands on its own. It is no one's other Verónica.