The Film: Penumbra (2011).
The Principles: Written and Directed by Adrián and Ramiro García Bogliano. Acted by Cristina Brondo, Camila Bordonaba, Berta Muñiz, Arnaldo André, Mirella Pascual and Victoria Witemburg.
The Premise: A rude and unpleasant woman goes to an apartment she owns in order to get a prospective renter to sign a lease. Meanwhile, a solar eclipse is happening outside and her new tenant is maybe just a little too interested in it. Is the woman going crazy? Will the eclipse bring a new, unimaginable evil to the streets of Buenos Aires? Will the landlord ask for first and last deposit? Will the renter install new hardwood floors without asking? WHAT ABOUT THE HARDWOOD FLOORS????
Is It Good: I was excited for this movie because I heard a lot of positive word out of Fantastic Fest when it was programmed there. Even if the movie is garbage, there is usually something batshit insane enough to make its inclusion understandable, but Penumbra is so middle of the road that I can’t imagine what Harry Knowles and Tim League were thinking with this one. Just when the dial starts getting up to eight and possibly rounding to nine, it swings back down to a six and ends with a wet fart of a three.
I love a slow burn horror flick. Session 9 and Rosemary’s Baby are prime examples on how to slowly ratchet up the tension to the breaking point and then explode with mayhem and grue. My biggest problems with the films of Ti West are that they (House of the Devil and The Innkeepers being the current kings of the slow burn) give you layered characters to root for while slowly and intensely building to a climax that comes and goes without much release. An hour into The Innkeepers, I was ready to call it the best horror film of the year by a wide margin but, once things started getting deadly, it became any number of Direct-to-DVD haunted house movies, albeit with excellent cinematography and performances. I would say Penumbra is no different, except it doesn’t give us anyone to root for or anyone truly villainous to despise, either.
Marga, consistently performed by Cristina Brondo, is a career-driven woman who has no qualms with sleeping her way to the top or treating anyone in her general vicinity that doesn’t have money she can somehow leave with as beneath her and a waste of time. She’s rude to people who try and help her and tazes a grabby and verbally abusive bum (rightfully) but then kicks the shit out of him while he lies there incapacitated just in the first 10 minutes. So when the creepy guy looking to rent the disgusting apartment shows up, you’re kind of hoping he’s going to make things at least a little miserable for her. Spoilers: he totally does, but in ways so predictable that, while you are completely wrapped up in the movie and eagerly anticipating what happens next, the ending comes as almost an afterthought. I don’t want to give too much away, as the journey to the end is really all this movie has going for it.
I don’t need movies of this ilk to end with some big fucking explosion or a CG enhanced wankfest, but there needs to be a release of all the tension built in order for the film to be a success. Penumbra ends in the most logical and boring place possible when logic was the furthest thing from its mind for the first 80 minutes. While a well made film with a few nifty and chilling moments, at the end of the day, Penumbra joins the work of Ti West as an exercise in cinematic blue balls.
Is It Worth A Look: Not really. Again, the slow burn aspect really draws you in, but the payoff just isn’t there. But then I know several people who aren’t bothered at all by Ti West’s inability to stick a landing (except for in The Roost. That movie rules), so mileage may vary. I didn’t mean to turn this review into an attack on Ti West, but he gets enough good publicity from everyone else and I’m just an old stick in the mud.
Random Anecdotes: A penumbra is the shadow cast by the earth or moon over an area experiencing a partial eclipse.
That’s all I got.
Cinematic Soulmates: House of the Devil, Race with the Devil, The First Power, The Serpent and the Rainbow.