Sibling filmmakers Adrian and Ramiro Garcia Bogliano ruthlessly toy with audience sympathies and expectations in “Penumbra,” a slickly produced thriller that often makes it very easy to hope that its nominal protagonist (Cristina Brondo), menaced by possibly deranged cultists and written as a thoroughgoing bitch, gets exactly what’s coming to her. Picked up for North American release by IFC during the 2011 Fantastic Fest, this Argentinean import likely will scare up interest as VOD fare, though its theatrical potential shouldn’t be underestimated.
Marga (Brondo), a corporate lawyer based in Spain, isn’t at all sentimental about her family ties to Argentina. Indeed, she absolutely despises the entire country, especially Buenos Aires, which she regards as a cesspool populated by lazy underachievers Unfortunately, she must spend time during a Buenos Aires business trip to show a real-estate agent a family-owned apartment in a gone-to-seed neighborhood.
Even more unfortunately, the agent and the associates who soon join him, efficiently appeal to Marga’s greed by promising her a hefty payoff from a potential renter if she’ll only stick around little longer. Like, until the start of an impending solar eclipse.
Brondo comes off as so aggressively unpleasant during the pic’s first half — in which Marga barks orders into her cell phone, condescending to the agents and generally earning the enmity of neighborhood residents — that one cannot help admiring the fearlessness of her hard-charging, take-no-prisoners performance. Indeed, although her character’s abrasiveness sporadically seems justified (an unseen business associate clearly is plotting against her on the other end of their phone connection), it’s not until the agents reveal their true colors that Marga begins to generate anything resembling a rooting interest.
The Garcia Bogliano brothers shrewdly exploit viewer ambivalence toward Marga as they ratchet up the suspense. And their final plot twist is all the more satisfying for having the flavor of just deserts.
Lenser Ernesto Herrera intensifies audience unease in several scenes by portentously framing characters in mirrors, doorways and hallways, subtly suggesting that power is shifting and screws are tightening.