'Penumbra' (2011) Review

Penumbra ReviewBy Jesse Miller, MoreHorror.com

Meet Margarita “Marga” Sanchez (Cristina Brondo), a headstrong, career driven young woman who just wants to seal the deal with an interested realtor to rent out her apartment and be off in a hurry to her next meeting – and the realtor is already running 40 minutes late when we meet her!

When she finally decides to head into the duplex, she finally meets Jorge (Berta MuÑuz), the realtor she’s been waiting for all this time, after pleasantries are exchanged, he states his client wants to assemble ALL the paperwork and be on their way, as he is in a hurry, offering a sizeable amount of money to do so.

Initially, Marga refuses, stating she has very important places to be and cannot afford to wait for the hour to collect the assembled paperwork, but the more she refuses, the higher Jorge raises the sum and makes Marga an offer the deal of a lifetime.
Meanwhile, there is an incoming solar eclipse that will soon take place and little does Marga know, she’s in for one hell of a day.

The Writer/Directors of this indie Spanish shocker, Adrian Garcia Bogliano & Ramiro Garcia Bogliano, cook up an intriguing premise that hooks you with its many lingering mysteries that you really want to get to the bottom of, but the biggest issue I had with Penumbra is that it feels too plodding and pedestrian and it takes too long to really take off.

Don’t get me wrong, I love some slow-burning psychological horror – Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby to name one fine example and Ti West’s excellent The House of the Devil to name another recent example – but sometimes the build up is either too long, leaving the viewer feeling emotionally detached, and the pay off is just anti-climatic and sadly, Penumbra ends up feeling this way for me.

Also, I have little sympathy for this main character of Marga because she is aggressive, arrogant and has no redeeming qualities that I just can’t connect to her or care about her, which is a terrible thing to have in any horror film because you need to invest in the protagonist so that you care about their outcome and their ordeal.

Giving the audience this unlikeable character and then asking us to sympathise with her, even after you shed more light on who she is as a human being – which is arrogant and rude without any hint of change – is asking a lot and when it comes down to it, I don’t agree with that – I think it’s poorly written in those regards and fails in establishing a character we can root for and care about.

The production features quite an odd mix of ideas that sometimes can work splendidly and on other occasions, it can come off feeling wildly out of place.

For example, the musical score here features a wonderful, foreboding use of a keyboard and at other times, sometimes during the most suspenseful, it features what sounds like a swing jazz beat and it’s a perplexing inclusion that doesn’t fit in at all with the horror on screen.

Penumbra’s biggest strength is its lingering mysteries – who are the mysterious people in the apartment? How does the eclipse work into this? Do they work for a vampire? Is this an apocalypse vampire film in disguise? Because that would be pretty cool – but when it comes to answering these mysteries, the answers are, disappointingly, a little anti-climatic and they all fall a little flat, leaving me with an “oh…was that it?” feeling rather than blowing me away.

What "Penumbra" boils down to for me is that it presents a few interesting ideas -in both the technical production and the writing – but the execution of these ideas were pretty disappointing and though it hinted at greatness at times, especially in that bonkers last half hour, it never quite followed through.

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