Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" Watch: Anna Paquin Is Rescued In Clip From 'X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut' Watch: Anna Paquin Is Rescued In Clip From 'X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut' Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man 2' Is "One Of The Best Superhero Movies Ever," Talks John Hughes Influence On New Spidey Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man 2' Is "One Of The Best Superhero Movies Ever," Talks John Hughes Influence On New Spidey Watch: Live Your Ultimate Fantasy With The First NSFW Trailer For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Watch: Live Your Ultimate Fantasy With The First NSFW Trailer For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Review & Recap: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Night Finds You’ Review & Recap: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Night Finds You’ Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight Of Cups’ Won’t Arrive Until 2016, Austin Music Scene Drama Not Titled ‘Weightless’ Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight Of Cups’ Won’t Arrive Until 2016, Austin Music Scene Drama Not Titled ‘Weightless’ The Punisher Will Reportedly Appear As The Villain In ‘Daredevil’ Season 2 The Punisher Will Reportedly Appear As The Villain In ‘Daredevil’ Season 2 'Lucy 2' And 'Colombiana 2' Are In Development 'Lucy 2' And 'Colombiana 2' Are In Development Mixed Reactions For Marvel's 'Ant-Man' After First Press Screening Plus New Promos And Pics Mixed Reactions For Marvel's 'Ant-Man' After First Press Screening Plus New Promos And Pics The Essentials: The 5 Best Rachel McAdams Performances The Essentials: The 5 Best Rachel McAdams Performances Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man' Is "Definitely A Sony Picture," Talks Role Of 'Ant-Man' In Phase 3, More Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man' Is "Definitely A Sony Picture," Talks Role Of 'Ant-Man' In Phase 3, More First Reviews For 'Terminator Genisys' Suggest Franchise Didn't Need To Say "I'll Be Back" First Reviews For 'Terminator Genisys' Suggest Franchise Didn't Need To Say "I'll Be Back" Kit Harington & Dakota Fanning Replace Robert Pattinson & Mia Wasikowska In 'Brimstone' Kit Harington & Dakota Fanning Replace Robert Pattinson & Mia Wasikowska In 'Brimstone' The Essentials: The 5 Best Colin Farrell Perfomances The Essentials: The 5 Best Colin Farrell Perfomances The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 10 All-Time Best Episodes Of 'Parks And Recreation' The 10 All-Time Best Episodes Of 'Parks And Recreation' The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Review: 'Penumbra' Flirts With Early Argento, Settles For Late-Period Dario

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist April 20, 2012 at 10:03AM

“We are surrounded by monsters!” bellows the deep-voiced heavy metal singer in the end credit music for “Penumbra,” the new Spanish-language thriller opening this week. Given the subject matter, he may be drawing too broad a picture, given that so much of this singleminded scarefest relies on perspective, itself crooked in some ways.
1
Penumbra

“We are surrounded by monsters!” bellows the deep-voiced heavy metal singer in the end credit music for “Penumbra,” the new Spanish-language thriller opening this week. Given the subject matter, he may be drawing too broad a picture, given that so much of this singleminded scarefest relies on perspective, itself crooked in some ways.

“Penumbra” begins with our hostile introduction to the beguiling Margarita Sanchez (Cristina Brondo). Fast-talking, attitudinal and judgmental to the limit, Margarita wears an ice-cream power skirt with authority, and a girlish ponytail with impetuous confidence. Not to put a fine point on it, but she’s a total bitch. Brondo’s considerable talent and whipsmart delivery suggests it’s a miracle we don’t root for Margarita to die. 

Penumbra

We follow Margarita, somewhat hesitantly, as she attempts to sell a ratty apartment to someone she assumes is an interested buyer. Margarita comes from money, and she essentially holds her nose as she makes her way through the complex. However, her common sense doesn’t seem to flare up when the buyer’s representative makes an exorbitant offer to purchase the property with a generous one-year advance. And how could it? She’s a woman with a lot on her mind.

Through a series of phone calls, we learn of Margarita’s trials. She’s singlehandedly taking care of the apartment’s co-owner, her own sister. She’s coping with her pushy boss back at the office. She’s having an affair with a married man. A brief confrontation with a homeless man outside a nearby market results in her tasering him in front of witnesses, who accuse her of brutality towards the local beggar. A rant about handouts and the jealousy of the lower classes probably isn’t the best way to endear herself to the surrounding shoppers.

Penumbra

Along with a dying phone battery, these distractions keep her from realizing that the wait for the buyer continues well beyond a reasonable point. As Margarita plays out her mini-dramas by phone, “representatives” for this mysterious buyer begin to stack up as if emerging from a clown car. Desperate to make the biggest sale of her life, Margarita desperately shoos away rats, more interested with making the place presentable than paying attention to the building’s other tenants. She also, conveniently, ignores the constant chatter about the solar eclipse about to happen, though it seems to be on everyone’s lips.  

“Penumbra” ratchets up the paranoia in a way that desperately wants to recall a horror picture in the vein of early Argento, leaning towards the supernatural and the occult in the final reel. But in its crisp digital photography mixed with motivation-less blocking and camera angles is more “Mother Of Tears” than “Inferno.” Even the sometimes jazzy rock score feels as if Keith Emerson passed out on a keyboard, deflating tension and undermining the danger Maragrita faces. And when the score shifts into more common orchestral strings, it’s distracting enough to remove you from the reality of the film. Argento likely would have encouraged Goblin to just play louder.

Most damnedly, "Penumbra" builds so slowly that it peaks at the length of an episode of "The Twilight Zone," fully stretching past the limitations of its own story. With nowhere reasonable to take the events that threaten Margarita's life, the film ends in something like a shrug, leaving many possibilities up for debate. Without revealing much, it's the least-scary place to take this character, confirming what we suspected all along, leaving our lead character unchallenged, unchanged. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and not a single upsetting moment amongst the boilerplate "scares."  [C-]

This article is related to: Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates