review for Penumbra on AllMovie

Penumbra (2011)
by Jason Buchanan review

Back in 2010, the García Bogliano brothers were the subject of much hype in the horror community thanks to the positive buzz surrounding Cold Sweat, their ambitious, low-budget genre film with style to spare and an explosive twist to boot. Flash forward two short years, and Adrian and Ramiro García Bogliano are back with Penumbra, a plodding, anticlimactic misfire that isn't likely to do much for their growing reputation as horror cinema's newest darlings.

Marga (Cristina Brondo) is a successful entrepreneur from Barcelona with little patience for the people of Buenos Aires. She's in the Argentinean city to find a new tenant for her family's crumbling apartment, as the locals eagerly await a solar eclipse scheduled to occur later that day. Arriving at the apartment to meet smooth-talking real-estate agent Jorge (Sebastian Muniz), Marga is taken aback when he claims to have a client who gladly will pay four times her advertised rental rate if the paperwork can be handled posthaste. But as the skies begin to dim, Jorge's associates begin filing into the building with an unmistakable sense of purpose. Something ominous is unfolding right before Marga's eyes, and by the time the moon moves into position, a shocking ceremony signals a coming darkness that could consume the entire world.

Great horror always begins with a solid concept. With its plot centered on a mysterious cult assembling in a dilapidated Buenos Aires tenement building during a major eclipse and an unsuspecting businesswoman lured into an arcane ritual, Penumbra has all the makings of a low-budget gem driven by a deliberate sense of creeping dread. But slow-burn horror can be a double-edged sword; not only does it require expert pacing and complete control of atmosphere on the part of the filmmaker, but the payoff had better be worth the 90 minutes of patient viewing when the final fright creeps in for the kill. And although in the world of ADD film editing and seizure-inducing cinematography it's tempting to embrace a picture like Penumbra on the basis of its competent cuts and sharp cinematography alone, the negatives begin to outweigh the positives early and often. From the intensely unlikable protagonist who spends most of the movie barking into a cell phone to the distractingly disjointed, jazzy score and an ending that's likely to leave more viewers scratching their heads than stuffing their brains back into their ears, Penumbra has the feel of a rushed production that buckles under the directors' insistence on stretching out a solid short-film concept to feature length.

Despite Penumbra's flaws, it's easy to forgive the García Bogliano brothers for allowing their ambition to overshadow their storytelling abilities since they're so technically adept and also possess a gift for conceiving compelling storylines. Perhaps once the brothers have matured as filmmakers, they will develop the ability to nurture those ideas so that they can blossom into something truly terrifying.