This might mark the first time I’ve watched an Argentinian horror picture. Adrián and Ramiro García Bogliano are certainly no rookies to film or to the genre having produced quite a few shorts and another genre picture, Cold Sweat. IFC is advertising this as movie in the shape of a Roman Polanski movie which is specifically a nod to his apartment trilogy. Given the subject matter of Penumbra I can see why they might do that, but I urge you to consider that this is not Repulsion. It is not Rosemary’s Baby. It is not The Tenant. The disorientation is its own and not being a fan of two out of three of Polanski’s apartment trilogy, you may want to separate it from that group for that reason as well (as if anything I said means anything).
Marga is a highly motivated, arrogant and successful businesswoman on assignment in Buenos Aires — a city she hates and whose people she loathes. While in the Argentina capital on a day the whole population is waiting to view a rare solar eclipse she must also find a new tenant for her family’s decrepit apartment. Rapidly losing her patience waiting for one applicant she runs into the mysterious Jorge lurking outside the front door of the place who informs her that he has a client willing to pay four times what she is asking in rent. There’s one catch — the paperwork must be signed immediately. As greedy Marga waits to complete the transaction several of Jorge’s associates suspiciously appear at the apartment ready to strip the wallpaper. And what’s behind the décor signals a startling fate worse than death — or should that be life!
That’s straight form IFC Midnight themselves. Does the subterfuge of a superior dark film with Polanksi influence hold up? At first Penumbra is confusing. It’s in Spanish with subtitles which I can assure you has never been a problem for me (sober), but they seemed to transition unusually quick. I had to actually revisit several lines to make sure I was getting the whole story. That might be where at least part of the disorientation I was experiencing had its origins. The store creeps along allowing you to evolve with our protagonists own questioned sanity. One minute your just a girl leasing an apartment, the next, your using a stun gun on a homeless man, the butt of every on-looker and authority figure. It’s not the story itself that’s so hard to grasp. The whole thing watches very much like Rosemary’s Baby in reverse(if Polanski comparisons must be made). Penumbra takes its time to develop and seems to meander from conscious story to out of focus tale of oncoming madness, and really that just might be the point. How do you show your audience what it’s like to question your sanity? How do you create a reality worth questioing. It is in this task that our filmmakers succeed.
Penumbra does use some unique camera work, contrasting color and framing to achieve its disorienting, sanity-breaking effect. Warm colors make you feel safe… until your in the apartment in question. Then the film goes black and the light isn’t so warm. Just as the penumbra, the ring around the edge of the sun may appear to shine the center is still a whole of blackness. I’d say take that and make it a metaphor for the world surrounding the apartment and the apartment itself. That sounds a bit artsy doesn’t it? The movie feels a bit like an art pic. It is IFC after all even if Midnight.
The cast is competent but no one truly stuck out to me as offering a stunning performance. I’m afraid that even our lead didn’t have me scratching the walls. I will say this, there were no poor performances and the over all casting was appropriate. You couldn’t have asked for a finer group of strange future tenants and the brokers that represent them.
I’m afraid this is an effects lite film. Not much blood… no gore, but of course I will tell you that when things get gooey, the violence is quite entertaining. Penumbra isn’t an excessive film in any sense of the word. It’s a calculated path to madness. Less Evil Dead 2 and more Yellow Wall Paper without the lady behind the wall paper.
I don’t want to divulge the whole of Penumbra’s twist, but I assure you that the folks leasing the apartment aren’t making anyone rich. There is plenty of evil at work. There is a darkness in the center of the eclipse and it isn’t the moon becoming and intermediary between our world and the sun. There’s a question of the goodness of people and trust. Penumbra will confuse your senses and will inevitably have you thinking you just may have missed something the first time you watched it. If you’re in the mood to re-think each scene you’ve just watched in order to see if the whole thing lines up for continuity check then this one’s perfect for you. There’s plenty to watch a few times over, but you’ll have to really enjoy the first sitting and keep up. If Penumbra only induces the insanity that has you feeling that the dialogue is moving too fast while the film moves rather slow than you’re not alone. Like I said, I’m not a fan of two of out of three of the Polanski apartment trilogy, but they seem to all make the best of lists time and time again. That probably means that someone has eyes for them and those same people might find more to Penumbra. That is not to say I disliked it, but it’s not a movie I plan to watch again even to see what I might have missed the first time.
Keep your eyes out for an interview with Adrián and Ramiro García Bogliano in the near future here at the Liberal Dead.