Penumbra (The Bogliano Brothers, 2011)
The Argentinian thriller Penumbra shares some of the same problems as Chilean thriller Baby Shower, which I reviewed recently. Specifically, this is a movie that starts off slow, slow, slow, which seems to be a common thread among South American movies that style themselves horror (q.v. The Silent House review from a couple of years ago as well). But whereas Baby Shower just kept getting worse as time went on, Penumbra morphed into a fun, if not terribly original, little picture once the pace picked up.
Marga (L'auberge Espagnol's Cristina Brondo) and Ana (voice of Dr. Hell's Ana Lunaâ"we only ever experience Ana via Marga's cell phone) are Spanish sisters who inherited a loft apartment eight years previous. It's located in Argentina, where the two spend two months every year for business purposes, and because of the bad neighborhood, they consider it unrentable. Out of the blue, though, Marga is contacted by Jorge (Berta MuÃ±iz from the Plaga Zombie franchise), acting as an agent for someone who feels the apartment will be perfect for his needs, despite the fact that he can afford a great deal better. That's the first thing that sets alarm bells off in Marga's head, but being the greedy, generally nasty person she is (there's an early scene of her tasering and berating a panhandler that sets the tone of her personality). She meets Jorge and Victoria (Chiquitas' Camila Bordonaba), who identifies herself as his driver, at the apartment, and the three settle in to wait for the new owner, Mr. Salva (The Fish Child's Arnaldo AndrÃ (C)), to come and sign some papers. Time drags on, and more alarm bells start going off in Marga's head as things get weirderâ"but her desperation to get the apartment off her hands keeps her there.
There's a lot of interesting stuff in here about class warfare (not only in the panhandler bit, but more subtly in the way Marga treats the elderly neighbor from the second floor), as well as some other incisive commentary on other things I really can't get into without spoilery bits; suffice to say that if you like social commentary in your thrillers, you don't have to dig too far down in this one without running across some. But it's all handled very well. At no point do the Bros. Bogliano stop the plot for a âbut now, here's an IMPORTANT MESSAGE ABOUT RACISM!â? moment, which is a very good thing indeed. I'm not entirely sure the movie ever quite gels the way it's supposed to, and a lot of people absolutely hated the last five minutes (I'm not one of them, though I do admit the whole thing felt kind of like a shaggy-dog joke when we hit that last bit. But then, I love shaggy-dog-joke movies; the original Ocean's Eleven is one of my favorite films of all time), so keep that in the back of your head. But it's some good stuff, nothing you should spend months/years tracking down but worth a watch if you happen upon it at Redbox. ***