It’s a shame that Netflix’s latest horror offering “Verónica” isn’t stronger. It has all the ingredients of a great shocker: solid performances, interesting turn on an old trope and an unnerving monster, but they don’t come together in a meaningful way. It doesn’t help that far better paranormal tales have come out recently like “Under the Shadow.” A few sequences show what “Verónica” could have been, but they stand out in the often formulaic thriller, and the set-up is the movie’s weakest part.
After her father’s death, unstable teenager Verónica (Sandra Escacena) is left to take care of her three siblings, twins Lucía and Irene (Bruna González and Claudia Placer) and Antoñito (Iván Chavero). Their mother Ana (Ana Torrent) owns a cafe busy enough to keep her away most nights. On her way to school one day, Verónica spirits a picture of her father away. With two friends, she tries to contact him via ouija board only to be possessed by a dark force.
In the movie’s best scenes, that dark force is lurking behind the action, an ominous shadow and one of the movie’s most striking images. Its design is simple, but effective, and doesn’t try to do more than it should. Where “Verónica” missteps is how early on it shows up. For how long the movie is, it seems to take off too early. This leads to later stretches that drag on much longer than necessary.
Even with that concrete premise, director Paco Plaza leaves room for ambiguity. Is the monster real or is it a product of Verónica’s trauma? Does that distinction matter? Either way, the movie isn’t ambitious enough to make either interpretation interesting. Beyond the scares, “Verónica’s” story isn’t potent. It’s a retread, albeit a competent one, with your standard approach to bigger budget horror: plenty of eerie music and low light.
There are times, however, when the movie steps out of the box and crafts some truly affecting set pieces. One hearkens back to Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Kairo,” released in 2001, and is just as effective as its progenitor. This moment’s out-of-character for “Verónica,” however. Otherwise, the movie is a solidly constructed, sometimes boring and always formulaic supernatural tale. There’s something to be said for how tired it all feels, but at least it does it well.