(Spoiler alert: I don’t think I spoil the movie, but I sure do say a lot about the plot.)
Veronica is a new horror movie released by Netflix, described by some as the scariest movie ever. For horror fans, Veronica is a run-of-the-mill possession movie (though a good one), and another movie from the Spanish horror director Jaume Balagueró of REC fame. Though it is not especially scary, Veronica is definitely buzzworthy.
Veronica centers on Veronica, a teen who basically raises her younger siblings while her single mother works long hours. While Veronica dutifully handles her role as Ersatz mother, we can see her pining for normal teenage life. Early in the movie, she looks across the courtyard of her packed apartment complex and sees another teenage girl carefree and dancing. Veronica briefly lives vicariously through her before being pulled away by the endless stream of tasks associated with raising three young kids.
The story begins on the day of an eclipse, but in an act of teenage rebellion, Veronica and her friend sneak into a basement room of their Catholic school to use a ouija board. As the moon glides in front of the sun, Veronica and her friends are summoning spirits in the basement. Veronica hopes to speak to her deceased father. A tagalong third friends wants to speak with a boyfriend who had died in a motorcycle accident (a detail from the real story that inspired the movie). But the eclipse supercharges their summoning and instead of hearing from either, a powerful spirit latches onto Veronica.
Do I even need to recap the rest of the possession-horror beats? Things slowly get worse every night. The spirit begins to harm Veronica’s brother and sisters. Veronica speaks with a mysterious, blind nun (whose cigarettes absolutely pour smoke). The nun adds the strange wrinkle that God cannot help her with this spirit, which is strange, but anyway Veronica seeks the actual answer for dealing with these spirits in a pulpy occult book about demons.
Other than a nun declaring that God has nothing to do with this particular demon and consigning a teenage girl to death, the most interesting wrinkle of the movie is Veronica’s predicament. Before encountering any spirit, Veronica is vulnerable. She has no father. She mothers three children as a teenager with hardly any support from her own mother.
Added to this are the normal stressors of teen life. She struggles to keep her only friend who is starting to hang out more with that girl whose boyfriend died on a motorcycle, and of course that girl loves to party, but Veronica cannot go to those parties. Her time is consumed by her siblings and her mental state is deteriorating because of that demon thing attacking her. On top of this, Veronica is still waiting on her first period, and even the blind nun is shocked that she has not gotten it yet.
As in The Ritual (another Netflix release which I reviewed), Veronica’s on-screen trial is the realization of a more relatable psychological trial à la Babadook. What is Veronica’s demon but an actualization of her adverse circumstances? We end up seeing that much of the physical violence the demon enacts on the young children is actually done by Veronica, who is on some level lashing out at her obligations. Altogether, Veronica the movie engages this trope more successfully than The Ritual though, because Veronica the character is the chief victim of her actualized psychological monster, unlike The Ritual where (spoiler) everyone dies except for the guy who achieves emotional growth. Also unlike The Ritual, what ails the character Veronica is a real circumstance rather than some lack of virtue. Veronica is an emotionally stunted teenage girl, getting her first period while raising her brother and twin sisters, all in the shadow of her father’s death. Life is packed, and it won’t let Veronica grow up like she needs to.
But what does Veronica miss? She can’t go to the same parties as her friends, but when Veronica tries to enter that party, the whole scene ends up looking grotesque. The movie does not seem to be telling us that Veronica would be better off tonguing some random young man at a party. If anything, that party only distracts her friend from the real struggles of Veronica. Sexuality is just another threat for Veronica, as in the scenes when she sees her fully nude father slowly trudging towards her, or when she is roused from a horrifying dream where she is doused in blood, but waking only finds her period has started.
Everything Veronica really misses out on she sees across the courtyard in opposite apartments. The carefree teen. An older couple showing soft affection to each other (a reality lost in the death of her father). These people seem to exist in a timeless warm space, but Veronica’s father is dead, and her mother is frazzled, and her charming siblings are nothing but a charge.
I myself have come late to nine-to-five life. I am 26, and I have just acquired my first cubicle. I wake up early in the morning, take my wife to work, then I go to work, where I enter data. For years, I have been either a student or a part time work, so while money is no longer an issue (what with the jobs and all), I am sucked into the churn of a routine work life. My reality is nothing like Veronica’s, because I don’t raise kids, and also I am married. But I too have my fully occupied days turn over into nights of housekeeping. At some level, it is all survival as with Veronica. Get the things done at night, so you can do the things in the day. All serves to create more things for the night, though luckily I have no omnipotent demons to ward off, and luckily I have reached this reality 10 plus years later than Veronica.
In a way, all horror movies are about vulnerable people who are exploited at their lowest. Veronica is made vulnerable by the interminable scraping away of life. So much so that it drives her to the ouija, any possible window into the past with her father. At some level, it drives her to hurt her siblings.
Though Veronica feels like another teen-oriented distraction, it also serves a prescient call to its viewers. It alerts us to the harrowing reality, shared by many, wherein kids must raise other kids in all manner of circumstances. Life can come too early, and when it does, it is harmful. Still, what does Veronica face except life? A life that she is ill-equipped for and should not have to shoulder at her age, but life nonetheless. Life like the life we are all going to live, early or late.
Veronica the movie wants to call us to the kinds of moments that Veronica the character longs for from her window: Carefree dancing and gentle love. These things do not lie in the demonic window into the past (e.g. the ouija) or the coarse, blasting of ill-gotten fun (e.g. the party scene). But of all the ways to add meaning to life seen in Veronica, she only encounters the latter, destructive pair, while she has to watch the blessed, peaceful pair from a distance at window.
Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” In our workstricken lives, there are many ways out. There are the ways we meet every hour of the day. The always at-hand distractions like those readily available in Veronica’s story and our lives. All these things only quicken our exhaustion, or, just as likely, lead to some other busyness along the way.
The path to peace and joy is quiet, patient, and unassuming. I just as easily could have talked about the narrow road and the broad road, but along the longer way of living life, there are many hours and days. Routine churns. While we have the time and the wherewithal, we can move towards one who gives rest. There is no shortcut to that peace, only a long slow acceptance of it.
We cannot sacrifice to idols instead of waiting on God for that rain. However, it is easy to say that when you do not literally wait on the rain for sustenance. In that tension is the exceptional cruelty of Veronica’s life.