On April 20th, IFC Midnight released Penumbra, nationwide on IFC Midnight Cable VOD and Digital Outlets (SundanceNOW, iTunes, Amazon Streaming, XBOX Zune, Playstation Unlimited). It’s also currently playing at the IFC Center in New York.
To that end, I recently conducted an email interview with Adrián García Bogliano and Ramiro García Bogliano regarding their South American horror outing and their approach to its unsettling imagery and suspense (among other things).
“Combining stylistic elements of classic Polanski with a contemporary vision that rivals anyone working in horror today, the Bogliano brothers’ ‘Penumbra’ is a superbly realized South American horror slow-burner. Marga is a highly motivated, arrogant and successful business woman on assignment in Buenos Aires – a city she hate and whose people she loathes. While in the Argentina capital on a day the whole population is waiting to view a rare solar eclipse, she must also find a new tenant for her family’s decrepit apartment. Rapidly losing her patience waiting for one applicant, she runs into the mysterious Jorge lurking outside the front door of the place who informs her that he has a client willing to pay four times what she is asking in rent. There’s one catch – the paperwork must be signed immediately. As greedy Marga waits to complete the transaction, several of Jorge’s associates suspiciously appear at the apartment ready to strip the wallpaper. And what’s behind the decor signals a startling fate worse than death – or should that be life!”
Head inside for the interview! And be sure to check out the film, it’s available now.
Penumbra represents a significant visual evolution. Looking back on your first few films, what were you looking to convey differently in this film?
RAMIRO: The approach to Penumbra was to stick to the script, stick to the characters and not get in the way of the story. We decided to limit visual tricks and restrain ourselves and try not to show off, because all the attention of the audience should be on the characters in order for the payoff to work. We carefully defined where we needed to work on specific set pieces.
ADRIAN: I think the visual evolution has a lot to do with having a better schedule to shoot, a great camera and a beautiful team between our director of photography Ernesto Herrera and my oldest collaborator, production designer Catalina Oliva. I think she added a lot of details and a lot of concept to the spaces where the film takes place. Usually, the production design is underrated when people talk about visuals. But I think in this case, production design is probably eighty percent of the visual result of the movie. And being minimalistic as it is, I think it’s a tremendous achievement, because usually production designers in South America tend to think that their work is about colors and putting nice looking things on the set so it doesn’t look empty. But it’s got very little to do with that and to me, it’s all about the concept.
In a film full of unsettling imagery, which sequence or shot are you most proud of?
ADRIAN: I’m really proud of the very simple but pretty effective sequence shot where Marga goes to the kitchen and we find out that the guy is hearing her conversation behind the wall. That’s exactly the type of pace and the kind of shots that I imagined for the film.
RAMIRO: The film´s climax, I think it works pretty well if we’re talking about unsettling imagery.
What was the casting process like for Marga? It’s an intense roll, how did you come to decide on Cristina Brondo?
RAMIRO: She came to our radar in the early 00’s, when she was coming up in the Spanish film scene. Since then, we wanted to work with her and we had her in mind for different projects that never came to life. Since then, she starred in Hipnos, a succesfull horror film from Spain and more significantly, at least for us, worked with Dario Argento, one of the film directors that we admire the most. She was the female lead in his Do You Like Hitchcock?. After all the years that took to get Penumbra off the ground, she became perfect for the role of Marga. Before, she was too young. When we met her, we clicked instantly and we [already] knew she was a great actress. Cristina elevated the role and carried the weight of the film on her shoulders beautifully. Without an actress with her talent and skills, and the warmth she added to that hard-to-like character, the film wouldn´t work.
What’s one thing you think is most important for the audience to know before they decide to see your film?
RAMIRO: It´s not a extreme horror film with shocks, blood and mayhem just from the start. Like Cold Sweat or 36 Pasos, the horror develops slowly from little misunderstandings between the characters. I think horror buffs that enjoy the film the most are not the ones that are expecting a bloodfest. Adrian has done that kind of films, we´ve done them in the past, we enjoy them like hell and we will make more, but we tried to get out of or “comfort zone” and try a different approach. And we are happy we did.
ADRIAN: To us this is more of a “Twilight Zone” chapter rather than a gore film or something like that.
I’ve seen Penumbra be compared to early Polanski. Was Repulsion a big influence on you?
RAMIRO: No, not in a direct way. Being great fans of that one but more intensely in my case of Rosemary’s Baby or The Tenant, we decided not to mess with these masterpieces and not to mess with Polanski, because you can´t get near there. It´s like triying to bite from Lynch or Tarantino, such iconic directors with such inimitable visions: you are going to fail if you try. Polanski was not a conscious influence, neither on the script phase, nor during prep when we checked out other movies in order to define the mood of Penumbra. The Spanish film La Madre Muerta, Bertino’s The Strangers, Australian horror film Next Of Kin or Das Boot were some of the movies we had in mind during the making of Penumbra, among many others.
ADRIAN: Yes, that’s right. The Tenant was Polanski’s film that shocked me the most and there’s probably a lot of influence of his work but we were not thinking specifically of him as Ramiro said. I was thinking first on David Mamet’s “Oleanna” and “Glengarry Glen Ross” and later on in Peter Collinson’s The Penthouse. A bunch of very strange influences for a horror film I guess.
What letter did you get for your ABC’s OF DEATH short? How much can you tell us about your segment?
ADRIAN: Sorry! I can’t say much yet. I’m really excited about the project. I already finished my segment and can’t wait to see what did the rest of the guys did…