In the introduction before it’s United States debut at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, Veronica was likened to a Mexican hybrid of De Palma and Polanski — high praise, and more or less accurate. The film follows a psychologist (Arcelia Ramirez) and her mysterious subject, Veronica (Olga Segura), who sequester in the psychologist’s mountain cabin and conduct sessions designed to coax a forgotten trauma from Veronica’s subconscious.
Their combative conversations are increasingly marked by sexual tension, and the suffocating isolation of the cabin itself adds a level of uneasy potential to each session. Anything could happen between the women, and seemingly no one would find out — or be able to intervene. Directors Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez Beltran develop the relationship between Veronica and her psychologist slowly and fitfully, retaining a baseline of mistrust between the two. Before long, that mistrust transforms into a forbidden attraction, as Veronica works to seduce her psychologist, who (as far as the audience can tell) has been living alone in her tastefully decorated cabin long enough to fall prey to simple gestures of intimacy.
Veronica is strikingly beautiful; her allure is compounded by her emotional inaccessibility, and a sense of danger that lingers as Veronica withholds from the audience exactly what behavior led to this extreme level of therapy. The film hints at the disappearance of her previous psychologist, and her practiced manipulation — coupled with genuinely disturbing snapshots of her childhood — implies a direct threat to her therapist. Still, as overtures to her psychologist amplify, from implicit (an offer to light a cigarette) to explicit (“have you ever had sex with a woman?”), Veronica successfully penetrates the psyches of both her doctor and the audience.
Olga Segura manages a balance of self-assuredness and complete impulsiveness that startles and enthralls her doctor, and the effect works to draw us closer to her, even as Veronica hints at the peril of being manipulated. Algara and Beltran compound that unsettling feeling by dutifully including overt hallmarks of the genre, from flashbacks of Veronica’s flashbacks, to a mysterious locked shed that hovers in the background of the film’s action.
The isolation at the heart of Veronica references Polanski, but the way the directors move their camera around the house, as well as the film’s shadowy cinematography, owe to De Palma. When Veronica loudly masturbates each night, the camera drifts through the halls, settling on her door, hinting at darkness and damage beneath her raw sexuality. Information trickles slowly, beckoning the audience to guess at what is truly happening between Veronica and her therapist, and attentive viewers might well predict the film’s third act twist before it arrives.
The revelations in the denouement don’t play as strongly as the uneasy first half of Veronica, mostly because the characters clumsily explain exactly what is happening — a result of having only two characters in the first place, with most of the film’s development taking place inside their heads. Still, by the time Veronica arrives at its expository finale, it succeeds in working its way into our heads, making us, like the psychologist, a victim of Veronica’s seduction.
Check out The Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, taking place in Brooklyn, NY October 12-15, 2017