Penumbra is a paranoid thriller in the mode of Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion, with a decidedly darkly comic streak that manages to unsettle and frustrate in equal measure. The film is an Argentinean film from the Bogliano brothers, recently released in a small number of theaters and now available on DVD.
Marga (Cristina Brondo) is a workaholic who has taken time from her increasingly busy job to show an apartment she owns in hopes of renting it. When the man she has agreed to show the apartment to offers her four times the worth of the place, she reluctantly agrees on the spot, with only one caveat: they must wait for this mysterious tenant to show up to look at it. After shuffling around an appointment to secure the rental, strange things begin to happen around her. Is it due to the impending eclipse she keeps hearing about? Who are these people that show up claiming to be part of this rental deal?
To discuss the plot any further will spoil the many twists and turns this film takes, that truly, one cannot see coming. At some points it’s a weird Coen Brothers comedy. Five minutes later, it’s a tense thriller, and for good measure there is a homeless man who seems to be influenced by Clive Barker’s seminal, Hellraiser. The guy doesn’t eat crickets or anything, but the last musical cue can’t be a coincidence. As a script, I can see the appeal of this on the page, and some of it comes across onscreen. In the end, the film answers almost every question it asks, and for this type of film, that doesn't really work. The mystery and unease that is built up for an hour and twenty minutes is blown away in the last five, and it shouldn't have been so conveniently put back together.
Christina Brondo appeared previously in Dario Argento’s TV movie Do You Like Hitchcock? and the Spanish film Between Your Legs with Javier Bardem. She is great in a role which challenges the audience at certain times to almost dislike this woman. The character is so driven by the desire to have more and at any cost that it blinds her against her better judgment.
Berta Muniz plays Jorge, the man to whom she rents the apartment. He is attractive enough to disarm her, yet creepy in a Norman Bates kind of way. Their dynamic is interesting when they are one on one, but once other people start showing up, there are almost too many things to track. The average viewer will have a tough time following character motivation, where they fit into the plot, and what exactly is going on.
IFC films has released Penumbra on a nice looking disc. For a lower budget film, the cinematography looks nice, and the bleak visual pallet comes through beautifully. The standard def image on the DVD has a nice level of clarity and sharpness. The audio is relegated to a single Spanish language track. English language subtitles are provided, and they are clear and easy to read, which is nice. Sadly, the only bonus feature on the DVD is a trailer for the film.
Penumbra is a real kitchen sink production, from the inspiration of Ennio Morricone’s music, to an end title card that reads: “You have been watching Penumbra”, which is an obvious nod to Dario Argento's many films that ended with this exact phrase. Adrian and Ramiro Bogliano have made an intriguing film that is not for everyone, but is worth seeking out. They wear their inspirations on their sleeve, and should be commended for what they have done with them.