Veronica: Horror Channel FrightFest European premiere first look

Transference, projection and rôle reversal abound in this intense psychological character study

Seated on the porch of her luxurious wooden cabin in remote mountainous forestland, a retired Psychologist (Arcelia Ramírez) answers a ringing telephone with conspicuous irritability, and expresses her reluctance to take on new patients – until she learns that the patient in question, Verónica de la Serna (Olga Segura), has been referred by an old esteemed professor. Despite being unable to get the professor on the phone and having no access to the case file, the Psychologist is intrigued, and agrees to see Verónica – who turns up at the cabin not long after.

From the moment that the Psychologist, lacking any record of her patient’s clinical history, suggests that they “start over at the beginning”, Verónica seems as determined to question her as she is to question Verónica, and so a game of wits commences between these two very different women – one young and erotically charged, the other middle-aged and sexually repressed – as they struggle together to determine precisely what is wrong with Verónica, and whether a cure is possible. Certainly Veronica is suppressing the memory of a childhood trauma, but she is not the only one in the consulting room who is troubled.

Like the shiitake mushrooms that she cultivates and eats, the Psychologist is a creature of seclusion and darkness, living far from civilisation and illuminating her home wth muted candles because of a condition that makes her eyes hurt whenever there is a sudden change of light. In this shadowy environment, exaggerated by the (mostly) monochrome cinematography of Miguel Angel and Gonzalez Avila, there is the sense that we – like the denizens of the Cave in Plato’s famous allegory, here expressly cited – may be being kept in the dark rather than given the full picture of reality. The result is a beautifully shot, delicately acted two-hander, as well as a quite literally psychological thriller, as Verónica’s treatment, indeed, her very identity, come to be dominated by transference, projection and rôle play, and the question of what she is keeping buried inside becomes ever more urgent and menacing.

Verónica is the feature debut of Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez-Beltran, co-written by Algara and Tomas Nepomuceno in such a way that every word counts, ambiguously resonating with hidden significance. Its closest analogue is Nicolas Pesce’s The Eyes Of My Mother (2016), also filmed in black and white, also set off the grid, also concerned with tunnel vision, also dramatising the effects of deep family dysfunction, and also tracing the undying influence of a mother (Sofia Garza, seen in flashbacks and dream sequences) on a daughter’s psychological makeup. It is a disturbing tale, unraveled with great subtlety and elegance – and as the viewer soaks in the film’s opulent aesthetics, it becomes all too clear just why the filmmakers refer to themselves in the opening credits as ‘the Visualistas.’ For dark insights into the tragedy of a damaged personality, Verónica is very much worth consulting and subsequently analysing.