WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY: Adrián García Bogliano, and Ramiro García Bogliano
FEATURING: Cristina Brondo, Camila Bordonaba, Berta Muñiz, Arnaldo André, Mirella Pascual, Victoria Witemburg, Diego Cremonesi, Gustavo Garzón
GENRE: OCCULT THRILLER
TAGS: decapitation, human sacrifice
RATING: 7 PINTS OF BLOOD
PLOT: On the day of a full solar eclipse, a young businesswoman showing an apartment finds that it attracts an unusual clientele, with designs on more than just the unit itself.
COMMENTS: This is the second unique, high quality thriller I've discovered this year that turned out to be from Argentina, the first being PHASE 7, which I will highlight next time. Filmmakers, the Bogliano brothers, have come a long way from their last film, a disturbing, unfocused effort entitled COLD SWEAT, about abduction and captivity at the hands of a couple of aging serial killers who murder their victims by blowing pieces of them off with nitroglycerin.
Penumbra begins as a perverse psychological thriller, builds like a mystery, then turns a crimson corner into the panic territory of violence and the occult. Along the way, we're kept guessing. One can't determine where the truth lies. Unsettling is the use of sunlight to build a sense of foreboding. So many horror films depend upon twilight and gloom to blur the line between fantasy and reality. In Penumbra, the sun itself is somehow knowing and conspiratorial.
With Penumbra, the Bogliano brothers have created something fresh and interesting. With a hint of foreshadowing, the film's cross-genre approach throws us off-balance. We don't know where this story is going, so every turn it makes is a surprise. It doesn't shock us with spine-tingling chills, but it makes us uneasy and has a genuine creep-out factor that only becomes more disturbing upon its downbeat denouement. The story keeps building and building, adding unexpected elements and creating pressure like a tensile-strength test. The situation into which the protagonist entraps herself becomes increasingly brittle. We wonder what event is going to transpire to create the inevitable sickening shatter as the bottom drops out in little pieces.
Penumbra isn't profound, but it's solid. Its characters are credible, the dialogue is simple and effective, there's no awkward exposition -the story tells itself at it unfolds. There's nothing far-fetched about the plot, which takes its cue from familiar events, but utilizes them in a such a way that we get a story which is unfamiliar. Viewers looking for a change from the routine, but who prefer an effective, conventionally-shot film that's easy to follow, will enjoy Penumbra and wish to keep an eye on future efforts from Adrián and Ramiro Bogliano.
In the story, Margo (Brondo) a Barcelona entrepreneur pursuing a project in Beunos Aires, is having a peculiar day. Everything is a little off-kilter, from canceled appointments and business ambiguities, to just plain odd run-ins with panhandling soothsayers which escalate into misunderstandings with the authorities. Throughout it all flows a droll undercurrent of the absurd, as if the day can't get any weirder, that later it will be merely an anecdote to be laughed at. Adding to the irksome ambiance is a blazing white-hot solar furnace in a cloudless, azure sky. It's hot today, and unusually bright. Margo's not the only one to notice it. Something strange and troublesome is in the air as the sun creeps across the heavens toward an inevitable rendezvous with a scheduled solar eclipse
Margo has invested in an apartment which she is showing. There's a quality that's not quite right about the prospective tenants. They're stalling, and while receiving them, Margo's keys disappear. Her cellphone minutes vanish. Because the door to the security building locks both ways. Margo can't get out, and help can't get in. Her clients begin to behave increasingly strangely. They are determined to buy. Margo is fiercely intent to sell. So why then can't they seem to finalize the transaction?
A chain of events transpires, each in quick succession, yet the afternoon drags by. Margo begins to languish, and it's as if the day's events are suspended in a timeless ether, going nowhere -slowly. Other things start to go disturbingly wrong. Strange noises, a neighbor may be trying to drug or poison Margo, and the apartment's pantry door is stuck. Through the keyhole, Margo can see an oblong burlap bundle. Is it moving? Is she going mad? Something funny is going on, but Margo's not laughing. In fact, there's something funny about the apartment itself. It has a history which predates the very edifice, a secret, which obfuscated in the shadows of masonry and mortar for ages, has been waiting to reveal itself in the affirming light of some sunny day.
The sun is coming up!
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. ***
Plot is vague and seen it in other films that had the same cliche story, but non the less in this Spanish interpretation is fairly interesting.
Christina Brodo character can be easily hated; because, of how she comes about, but I rather found her rather interesting. Especially her character that is a bitch, and you know what they say about Karma. Its a bitch. Non the less her performance was great, we barely see a women carry the film very coherently and efficiently.
Overall Penumbra is not nothing original or spectacular, but Brodo carries the film fairly good, and I was not expecting the ending at all, it also had some decent tension. Decent flick, but don't go in expecting much, though.