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March 11, 2016

Penumbra

by Franz Patrick


Penumbra (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Marga (Cristina Brondo) is a Spaniard who is in Buenos Aires for two weeks. She and her sister inherited an apartment but instead of letting it be of no use, they decide it might be a good idea to put it up for rent. Her agency gets in touch with a realtor but he appears to be forty minutes late and counting. So, Marga goes inside the apartment complex to check if the man had arrived before her. She comes to discover someone (Berta Muñiz) waiting at the door. She assumes he is the realtor. He goes along with it. Meanwhile, the talk around the city is the upcoming total solar eclipse. It is supposed to take place within the hour.

“Penumbra,” written and directed by Adrián García Bogliano and Ramiro García Bogliano, is one of the most talkative horror movies I have come across in some time. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but when it gets in the way of telling a story with an interesting premise and creating an escalating level of tension throughout, it gets frustrating real quickly. As a result, presented to us is a ninety-minute picture with only approximately seventeen minutes of goodies. Worse, just about everything that is worth seeing is saved in the late latter half so it demands a lot of waiting.

It is understandable that the material must establish its lead character. The problem does not lie in the fact that Marga is a haughty, rude, sharp-tongued specimen. Brondo makes her character entertaining up to a point—a well-executed sarcastic remark one minute, a look of utter disdain to a complete stranger the next—but her overbearing attitude is highly repetitive. The screenplay does not allow her to become a real person. She is unpleasant pretty much all the time and that makes her more of a caricature.

This is a problem because we are supposed to root for her eventually. Because she is a one-dimensional harpy, I did not care at all whether she lived or died by the end. I suppose one can perceive the picture as a lesson in karma. While she is incredibly unpleasant to just about everyone she comes across or talks to over the telephone (unless she needs a favor), the karmic angle does not work—at least for me—because I thought that no one deserved to go through the things she did in the latter half. Consider how different it might have been if she is a mean for the most part but there is also some good in her. I would have probably cared more about what would happen to her until the very last shot.

Another aspect that does not work is the film’s failure to create an increasingly claustrophobic environment. The story unfolds in two buildings: the complex where Marga’s apartment for rent is located and the supermarket right across the street. Part of the problem is that the director is adamant in capturing the actors from the waist up when tension is on the rise. Because the approach rarely changes, the feel or mood of the images becomes stagnant. There is really no element of surprise. Things are happening but one can argue that at the same time they are not.

Lastly, the supporting characters are a bore. The beggar across the street is a stereotype and so is the security guard at the supermarket. Even the would-be mysterious characters introduced later on offer nothing special. They function more like wall decorations. So, when the endgame is finally revealed, it makes very little to no impact. I found it so unbearable at times that I caught myself asking, “It’s been more than hour. The eclipse should have occurred by now.”

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