25 July 2013 | pameladegraff
On the day of a full solar eclipse, a young businesswoman showing an apartment finds that it attracts an unusual clientèle, with designs on more than just the unit itself.
This is the second unique, high quality thriller I've discovered this year that turned out to be from Argentina, the first being PHASE 7. Filmmakers, the Bogliano brothers, have come a long way from their last film, a disturbing, unfocused effort entitled COLD SWEAT, about abduction and captivity at the hands of a couple of aging serial killers who murder their victims by blowing pieces of them off with nitroglycerin.
Penumbra begins as a perverse psychological thriller, builds like a mystery, then turns a crimson corner into the panic territory of violence and the occult. Along the way, we're kept guessing. One can't determine where the truth lies. Unsettling is the use of sunlight to build a sense of foreboding. So many horror films depend upon twilight and gloom to blur the line between fantasy and reality. In Penumbra, the sun itself is somehow knowing and conspiratorial.
With Penumbra, the Bogliano brothers have created something fresh and interesting. With a hint of foreshadowing, the film's cross-genre approach throws us off-balance. We don't know where this story is going, so every turn it makes is a surprise. It doesn't shock us with spine-tingling chills, but it makes us uneasy and has a genuine creep-out factor that only becomes more disturbing upon its downbeat denouement. The story keeps building and building, adding unexpected elements and creating pressure like a tensile-strength test. The situation into which the protagonist entraps herself becomes increasingly brittle. We wonder what event is going to transpire to create the inevitable sickening shatter as the bottom drops out in little pieces.
Penumbra isn't profound, but it's solid. Its characters are credible, the dialogue is simple and effective, there's no awkward exposition -the story tells itself at it unfolds. There's nothing far-fetched about the plot, which takes its cue from familiar events, but utilizes them in a such a way that we get a story which is unfamiliar. Viewers looking for a change from the routine, but who prefer an effective, conventionally-shot film that's easy to follow, will enjoy Penumbra and wish to keep an eye on future efforts from Adrián and Ramiro Bogliano.
In the story, Margo (Brondo) a Barcelona entrepreneur pursuing a project in Beunos Aires, is having a peculiar day. Everything is a little off-kilter, from canceled appointments and business ambiguities, to just plain odd run-ins with panhandling soothsayers which escalate into misunderstandings with the authorities. Throughout it all flows a droll undercurrent of the absurd, as if the day can't get any weirder, that later it will be merely an anecdote to be laughed at. Adding to the irksome ambiance is a blazing white-hot solar furnace in a cloudless, azure sky. It's hot today, and unusually bright. Margo's not the only one to notice it. Something strange and troublesome is in the air as the sun makes its way toward a scheduled total eclipse.
Margo has invested in an apartment which she is showing. There's a quality that's not quite right about the prospective tenants. They're stalling, and while receiving them, Margo's keys disappear. Her cellphone minutes vanish. Because the door to the security building locks both ways. Margo can't get out, and help can't get in. Her clients begin to behave increasingly strangely. They are determined to buy. Margo is fiercely intent to sell. So why then can't they seem to finalize the transaction? A chain of events transpires, each in quick succession, yet the afternoon drags by. Margo begins to languish, and it's as if the day's events are suspended in a timeless ether, going nowhere -slowly. Other things start to go disturbingly wrong. Strange noises, a neighbor may be trying to drug or poison Margo, and the apartment's pantry door is stuck. Through the keyhole, Margo can see an oblong burlap bundle. Is it moving? Is she going mad? Something funny is going on, but Margo's not laughing. In fact, there's something funny about the apartment itself. It has a history which predates the very edifice, a secret, which obfuscated in the shadows of masonry and mortar for ages, has been waiting to reveal itself in the affirming light of some sunny day.
And look! The sun is coming up!