Directors: Adrian and Ramiro Garcia Bogliano
Starring: Cristina Brondo, Camila Bordonaba, Sebastian Muniz, Mirella Pascual, Diego Cremonesi, Victoria Witemburg, Omar Gioiosa, Maria Nela Sinisterra
An Argentinean import that scared up a big positive reaction at last year’s Fantastic Fest, “Penumbra” is a slick, teasing, well constructed genre offering that rather skillfully exploits audience antipathy toward its bitch-on-wheels protagonist in slowly unspooling the story of a potential cult looking to find a secluded apartment in advance of an extremely rare solar eclipse. A thriller long on suspense if short on eventual explication, the movie is anchored by a fierce performance from Cristina Brondo.
“Penumbra” is set in Buenos Aires. After a cold open in which a woman (South American Playmate Maria Nela Sinisterra) is lured into a building and snatched by unseen predators, the focus switches to Margatira Sanchez, or Marga (Brondo), a Spanish corporate lawyer in town to tend to an apartment to which her family has ties. Trying to oversee an important business deal by phone, she’s none too happy when the client interested in the property, Jorge (Sebastian Muniz), shows up 40 minutes late. An offer of four times the market value plays upon her greed, however, and so Marga agrees to hang around for an extra hour or so to wrap up the paperwork with Jorge’s exacting boss.
After heading outside for a bit, Marga has a nasty run-in with a panhandling bum (Omar Gioiosa), and is also flippant and dismissive of a chatty, older neighbor (Mirella Pascual) until her phone runs out of minutes and she ends up needing to make a call. Returning back to the apartment, Marga finds that Jorge’s boss hasn’t shown up, but another coworker (Camila Bordonaba) has; later, two more mysterious colleagues (Diego Cremonesi and Victoria Witemberg) also show up, arousing suspicion in Marga, but mostly just her ire, since she’s eager to wrap things up and get out this neighborhood for which she has so much disdain.
Co-written and directed by brothers Adrian and Ramiro Garcia Bogliano, “Penumbra” is a film smartly rooted in character. There are playful genre touches (Jorge distractedly clangs a piano key, underscoring the foreshadowing present in a line of dialogue), but the filmmakers just as frequently wring dramatic tension from unexpected places, as with a sequence in which Jorge begins to emotionally unravel and has to be put in his place by his cohorts, all without them tipping the details of their plan.
The film, and its connection, is mainly predicated upon the superlative performance of Brondo, playing a rapacious career woman who’s advanced up the ladder by spreading her legs, we come to learn. Marga is just kind of a bitch, and so there’s a perverse delight in watching her countenance turned against her, and the figures at whom she’s gazed down her nose doubt and dismiss her in kind when it turns out she needs their help. In this regard, there’s even a slight tinge of morality play to the proceedings, like so many of those old “Tales From the Crypt” episodes; do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
There’s plenty of filler here — the first 50 minutes is all set-up, basically — but it’s well handled, and it’s so invigorating to see a genre piece with a spitfire female of this sort that one doesn’t terribly mind. A darkly playful score and engaging musical selections by Martin Jurado also give the proceedings some pop.
Written by: Brent Simon