Marga (Cristina Brondo) is one of those snooty, busy body lawyers you always see in line at Starbucks, perpetually yelling at somebody on her cell phone. When she gets to the front of the line and the employee asks her what she wants, she wags her finger in their face and finishes yelling at whoever is at the other end of the line. She then rattles off an incomprehensible drink order at break neck speed, and becomes enraged when she has to repeat a detail. While waiting, she taps on her watch and seers at the barista. She finally gets her drink and sips it, and is horrified to find that the foam is half skim, half 2% milk, instead of being ¾ skim and ¼ 2%. She slams the drink down and starts threatening the barista with a lawsuit. As you might imagine, a character like that is probably not going to be sympathetic, but she’s hot, so I’ll give her a pass for now.
She inherited a giant shithole apartment (it’s a small apartment but a giant shithole, if you follow) and is desperate to rent it out because this means that she will receive money and she likes money so that is really good. She has an appointment with a real estate agent, and bumps into Jorge (Berta Muniz), who tells her that he’s the real estate agent representing a mysterious man interested in renting the apartment. Jorge insists that his client is in a giant hurry to close a deal, so much so that he is not only willing to pay four times the going rate, but will pay for the entire year in advance in order to avoid a background check.
A couple of red flags here, folks. Any time somebody says they don’t have time for a background check is trying to hide something. I think even dumb people can see that one. Secondly, although it may seem counter-intuitive, super rich people aren’t the type to throw money away like that. When Donald Trump is buying a wig, he tries to use his status as a rich person to barter with the wig salesman to get a better deal. Just one example.
So, there are shenanigans afoot, no doubt, but Marga is one of those “take the money and run” people. The other tipoff is that there is going to be a total eclipse of the sun within a couple of hours (not to be confused with a total eclipse of the heart, which is not an astronomical occurrence but rather a power ballad that punches you in the ass). An older neighbor warns her that the solar eclipse is a byproduct of a world gone insane, and there’s a homeless man holding a cardboard sign that quotes the bible about solar eclipses being evil or whatever. I could see how people in medieval times would be freaked out by the sun disappearing for a few moments, but I’d think they’d soon calm down when the sun reappeared. But I guess it’s more of a symbol of doom, like a bad moon rising so high it blacks out the sun.
Anyway, Marga spends almost half the movie arguing with people, whether on her cell phone or in person, while waiting for this mystery man to show up. Her one note character was easily established during the first dialogue scene with Jorge, so much of these other dialogue scenes just continue to hammer home how much of a stuck up beeyatch she is. Granted, token horror plot points are revealed in these scenes, such as her phone no longer working and her keys to the building going missing. There are also several threats that are established, whether the creepy homeless man who loiters outside the building, or the sound of a scurrying rat, or the part where she trips and cuts her head open.
However, these “threats” are not only minor, but completely tangential to the central menace. So, a good 40 minutes end up not really building to anything. The idea that there is an impending solar eclipse is an attempt to establish suspense. However, if you already know the exact time the solar eclipse is happening, the movie becomes akin to being forced to sit next to an annoying hot chick in a waiting room while she yells into her phone. You could even go the other way and become actively annoyed and hope that somebody kills her off as quickly as possible. I was sort on the fence, maybe because she’s hot, or maybe because I didn’t care.
Penumbra is well acted and technically well done I guess (except for an unfortunate stylistic choice where the camera goes into some shaky dutch angles), but it is fundamentally flawed as a suspense horror movie. The reveal is both obvious and forced, the main character is annoying and shrill, it feels like a spiritual ripoff of a recent popular horror movie (which I won’t reveal for spoiler reasons) and, most importantly, the material is essentially a 30 minute horror T.V. episode stretched out. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; just because you stretch shit out doesn’t mean you’ll automatically create more suspense. You have to have an engaging through line. Otherwise, you’ll just bore the audience, and I don’t think the filmmakers are intentionally trying to bore the audience. Maybe it’s one of those “art” films. It is subtitled after all. I just don’t know anymore.