On the day of an impending eclipse, Margarita (Cristina Brondo) impatiently awaits the late arrival of Jorge, a realtor who has a client willing to handsomely pay for the rundown apartment she inherited. The snooty business woman from Spain isn’t particularly excited to be in Buenos Aires but with the promise of extra money to line her pockets (both from the transaction and working at her company’s local branch), she’s willing to deal with the dredges of society – i.e. everyone else – including a foul-mouthed homeless man who garners sympathy from onlookers after the socialite publically reprimands him. The solar anomaly is known to make people act a little kooky, but when her apartment begins to fill up with “associates” of the high roller and strange noises start coming from the pantry, she starts to wonder whether or not she’s ever going to get paid.
By having Margarita start doubting her sanity in the outside world and then locking her inside the building for the rest of the film, Adrian and Ramiro Garcia Bogliano set up a slow-burn absurdist horror-comedy that revolves around Marga’s constantly changing level of (in)sanity. Brondo carries the film well as the shallow, proud woman, and is given plenty of time to explore her character. She’s so concerned with the money she’s about to get, the affair that she’s having, and the politics of her job that she doesn’t pay any mind to the fact that someone is paying quadruple the asking price of her crummy apartment.
Like House Of The Devil, Penumbra takes its time creating the environment its characters exist in and building up the atmosphere and tension. It’s not so much a celebration of a specific point in time like House as it is a storytelling mechanism used to make what very little plot there is seem banal and trivial. There’s a direct relationship between the film’s seemingly inconsequential nonsense and Marga’s mental health; as she tolerates more and more of her soon-to-be renter’s quirks, she starts to lose her grip and things get a little more dangerous – and darker, remember that eclipse? – for everyone.
There’s a few lessons that can be taken away from Marga’s story of reaping what her fiery arrogance has sown, and the Bogliano brothers drive most of them home. Penumbra creates an anxiety-producing environment with no escape that oozes atmosphere – not a huge shock, considering the brother pulled off something similar in Cold Sweat – so it’s a shame that the soundtrack seems to be battling it at every turn. With a little fine tuning (some scenes with the outside world need trimming), Penumbra could be great but as it stands, it’s a solid, yet familiar, thriller.