Review: Penumbra (2011)

Horror Movie Mini-Review by Zeus | 2014-04-02

Penumbra (2011)

A foul-tempered Spanish businesswoman named Magda (Cristina Brondo) is slumming it up in Buenos Aires, skipping work to sell her family's Argentinean apartment. Her dislike for the city and its locals is evident. She doesn't even care about the impending total solar eclipse.

Magda rides the creeky elevator to her apartment, only to find a man hovering by the door. Something about him seems off, but he assures her his boss will pay four times as much as the apartment is worth. The deal is too good to pass up, so Magda calls her own boss and makes up a story about her sister being raped by junkie squatters. While they wait for the wealthy client to arrive and sign off on the deal, more and more of his associates show up, each stranger than the last. It's obvious something's not right, but Marga is preoccupied stamping out the last of the roaches before the client gets there. When she goes to buy bug spray across the street, a heavyset bum accosts her, whispering filthy insults. When he gets physical, she drops him with a tazer. But the neighborhood policeman and locals all vouch for the bum's great character, and when Magna goes on an anti-homeless tirade, they treat her like a madwoman. Slowly, the pieces fall into place. Whatever strange fate awaits Magda in her increasingly crowded apartment, the movie wants us to believe she'll what's coming to her.

Credit must be given to lead actress Cristina Brondo. Considering the character Magda is running at full bitch from scene one, a lesser actress might have gotten by on shrill voice acting. But something about Brondo's portrayal makes you give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she's not always like this, maybe she's just having a really bad day. Cristina Brondo is pretty, but it's more than that. She singlehandedly saves the character from being a flat parody that all but forces you to side against her. Compare Magna to Alison Lohman's character in Drag Me to Hell, who, when she wasn't throwing little old ladies out on the street, was busy butchering her own cat.

This is the second Argentinian horror movie I've seen on Tom Chick's recommendation, the first being Phase 7. I'd hesitate to call this one a horror comedy, but it has a definite upbeat, quirky feel. Long stretches are dedicated to being off-kilter and a bit unsettling. In the hands of another director, the story of a upperclass woman trapped in a slum might have been as grim and ugly as something like P2. But this plays out more like an episode of Tales from the Darkside, which, coming from fan like me, is high praise. Still, the movie does drag, and while the payoff was intriguing, I'm not sure it was entirely worth the wait. I won't spoil the ending, but I will say this: anti-homeless tirade aside, I'm siding with Magda. (3/5 stars)

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