Following the oddball cult hit "Cold Sweat," the Argentinean filmmaking team of Adrian and Ramiro Garcia Bogliano return with "Penumbra." "Cold Sweat" was not a particularly good movie, to my mind, and yet its sheer madness made it strangely alluring. When I settled in to watch this movie, I was not aware of the connection but it didn't take me long to link the two movies based on a similar tone. It's very distinctive and recognizable! So if you like one of these films, you will undoubtedly embrace the other. So over-the-top as to veer into comedy, it's hard to take either very seriously. And yet, there's something unexpectedly compelling and different enough about the style to keep you interested. "Penumbra" is marketed in the horror category but, in truth, it probably won't satisfy viewers expecting big scares and thrills. At best, this is an exercise in creepiness. And, as I said, due to the broadness of the script and performances, I was more amused than terrified. For me, that was enough.
The story unfolds in real time, basically ninety minutes on the day of a rare solar eclipse. A brash Spanish lawyer (Cristina Brondo) is in Buenos Aries on business. She is also tending to an inherited property that she hopes to rent out. When she meets a realtor at the dilapidated apartment, he seems desperate to make an immediate deal. Snapping at an offer that seems too good to be true, she waits for the arrival of the potential renter as the day becomes increasingly odd. It is clear from the get-go that something malevolent is at work here. Although the script tends to hint at possible madness in the central character (which might have been an interesting angle), it is never a viable option. The movie has already opened with an a violent act unrelated to the heroine, so the viewer knows something nefarious is going on in reality. As more people arrive at the apartment, each increasingly suspicious and one in a bad wig, Brondo finally figures out that something is amiss. But is it too late? What is happening and is there any escape?
In the first hour of "Penumbra," not much really happens. Brondo's role is surely one of the most evil and reprehensible characters ever to anchor a film. She is so nasty and over-the-top, you can't wait for something truly awful to happen to her. Seriously, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of her ultimate demise. Her ego is largely her undoing, and that's surely the point. Brondo is certainly committed, but it is so overstated as to come across as comedy. I'll say that the humor is intentional, for it must be, but I'm not one hundred percent sure. Likewise, the realtor and his cohorts are so bizarre, it's hard to imagine that this doesn't register in a more tangible way with Brondo. In short, I didn't believe a minute of it. And yet, it was eminently watchable and fun in a macabre fashion. Not much is explained in the big finale, but I found a certain charm in its simplicity as well. I liked "Penumbra" despite its inherent flaws. I suspect it might be a love-it or hate-it proposition for some. I just relaxed and went with the flow and, with moderate expectations, I was amused throughout. But again, it might be a disappointment for those looking for real horror. KGHarris, 8/12.