The 1991 school year has only just begun in Madrid, but the days of falling asleep at desks and staring out windows won’t last for long. Paco Plaza’s 2017 Spanish-language horror film Verónica, follows the eponymous teen protagonist as she joins her friends for a secret séance on the day of a solar eclipse.
Desperate to reach her dead father and overwhelmed by the responsibility of taking care of her siblings while their mother works, she unwittingly allows dark forces beyond her understanding into her life. As the weeks continue, increasingly frightening occurrences take place in her family’s home—power outages and earthquakes only in their apartment, hauntingly realistic hallucinations, inexplicable claw marks appearing on Verónica’s body. Knowing that the origin of this strife is paranormal, she attempts to ward the house with symbols of protection, but these do nothing to deter the spirits.
Verónica accepts responsibility for the terror that’s been reigning over her family for weeks and returns to the original séance spot for answers about the haunting, finding an old and blind nun from her school there. Sister Muerte, as she’s called by the students, knows about what’s been plaguing Verónica’s family because she can see the spirits too. Sister Muerte offers her advice: make the spirits leave the way they came in—“You have to right what you did wrong.”
Later at night, she decides to hold a séance with her siblings in an attempt to formally rid themselves of the spirits. She tasks Antoñito, her youngest brother, to write symbols of protection on the wall. Instead, he flips to the wrong page, writing symbols of invocation.
The dark forces grow stronger, leading Verónica to call the police while attempting to help her siblings, who are being tormented throughout the house. The siblings manage to leave the apartment, but Verónica realizes she never grabbed Antoñito and only imagined doing that. As she returns for him, the apartment is almost completely torn apart and calling out for her youngest brother seems fruitless. She eventually finds him hiding in a wardrobe. Verónica reaches for a cowering Antoñito, frustrated towards why he won’t just take her hand and leave with her, why exactly he doesn’t trust her. Then, she catches a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror—grotesque, haunting and unrecognizable. He doesn’t trust her because that isn’t her.
Possession is a cornerstone of horror films. From The Exorcist to Hereditary, the genre has explored that morbid fascination of stepping too far into the abyss and losing yourself in it. There’s always a gateway to this process, a rogue Ouija board or a ritual gone wrong, and an underlying desire for power or knowledge or just a bit of fun. For Verónica, the séance, which her friends view so casually, becomes the chance to talk to her father again and bring back the normalcy to her life. Possession can act as a metaphor for the unknown or a cautionary tale about how curiosity killed the cat. For those who are more superstitious, possession can have grave and eternal consequences as Verónica quickly discovers.
Verónica isn’t just about possession, though. It’s about having a family that you love so much that you’d do things that were previously unimaginable just for them. Verónica’s love for her family and her frantic desire to keep them safe only ended up tearing them further apart. She reached out to her dead father, only to have something far more sinister come into her life. The advice Sister Muerte gave her only led to further destruction. Whatever, or whoever, possessed her took advantage of her fears and pulled something even more horrifying out from the darkness.
Verónica’s biggest motivation throughout the film is her family. She has to take on the role of caretaker for her three younger siblings while her mom becomes the sole breadwinner of the house. Things don’t feel the same since the death of her father, after all, what teenage girl wants to spend her free time making sure her siblings do their homework and putting dinner on the table instead of hanging out with friends? Verónica wants her normal life back, her family back. In the end, she doesn’t just lose her family, she loses herself too.