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Wide World of Horror: ‘Penumbra’

Wide World of Horror: ‘Penumbra’

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Written by Adrián & Ramiro García Bogliano
Directed by Adrián & Ramiro García Bogliano
Argentina, 2011

Is it possible to become invested in a character that is so easy to loathe? That is the question put forth by Penumbra, and it is the question that will probably determine whether or not most viewers will enjoy the film. It’s not necessary to like the protagonist of a film, but to become invested in a horror heroine is almost a prerequisite of the genre. They scream, they run, they fear for their lives and the viewer cheers for them. There’s a certain amount of joy to be gained from the hapless heroine overcoming the odds that are against her. She need not be dainty, not does she need to be a saint. But, what the horror heroine must be is someone who the audience is so willing to root for that they care about what happens to her. It’s a tried and true formula of the horror genre, one that hasn’t truly been altered for some years now.

Enter into the fray Marga, the creation of Adrián & Ramiro García Bogliano. She’s not the typical horror heroine, she’s more along the lines of the girl who stole your sister’s boyfriend and got the promotion instead of you thanks to her uncanny ability to manipulate. It’s hard to find anything to like about Marga, outside of her physical beauty she never betrays any likeable characteristics during Penumbra. And, she is the heroine, Marga is the character that the audience is being asked to root for. Or, is the audience being duped into believing that they should root for Marga? She’s the protagonist of the film, but she’s so repugnant as a person that she isn’t someone to cheer on. Instead Marga is the surrogate for the audience. Someone thrust into a situation that she cannot control, and forced to observe as things spiral beyond her control. Put simply, Marga is a fascinating character. She defies every aspect of the typical horror leading lady.

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It’s a good thing Marga is so superbly drawn by Cristina Brondo, because if not for her the denouement of Penumbra leaves a very bitter taste. The film excels at developing its lead character, and at building tension. Where it fails is the story that surrounds the tension and the final reveal. The film builds and builds, and takes its time in working to its ending. Penumbra is such a slow burn that it will turn some off very early on. For others the slow burn will come across as well done, and as time well spent with a wonderfully crafted character. The end, however, is hard to justify no matter how it is interpreted. After so much build, tension, and dense atmosphere the finale is a gigantic letdown. It’s not a case of, “whoa, deep, and mysterious,” but rather a case of “so you never really had any idea how to end your story, did you?”

Bitter though the taste of Penumbra’s ending may be, it is slightly forgivable. The ending does hurt the film a great deal, but it can’t change the tense horror that comes before. There’s no taking away the wonderful performance of señorita Brondo, of the claustrophobic framing of the brothers Bogliano. Penumbra is a very flawed horror film, it creaks and it wobbles and it almost falls completely on its face. Yet, the positives of the film manage to outweigh the negatives. In the end Penumbra doesn’t fall, it’s not as pretty or fulfilling as it could have been, but it’s still an exciting entry into the horror lexicon.

-Bill Thompson

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