Friday, November 16, 2007

PENNY DREADFUL: It's Dreadful Enough

Cast: Rachel Miner (pic), Mimi Rogers, Liz Davies and Chad Todhunter
Director: Richard Brandes
Time: 95 mins
Rating: * * ½ (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: To begin, let me get this pun out of the way: “Penny Dreadful” is psychologically dreadful enough for more than a penny! What this means is that you will get your money’s worth of ‘Hitcher Horror’ provided you don’t put your hopes too high…

WHAT’S IT ABOUT? The prologue provides the background of our protagonist Penny Dearborn (Rachel Miner), who, as a little girl, was the sole survivor of a horrible car crash that killed both her parents. Years later, she is still in therapy for her morbid fear of cars. Her shrink, Dr Orianna Volkes (Mimi Rogers), believes that she can overcome her problem if she returns to the scene of her accident and confronts her fear. Hence the two are on a road trip to the Big Bear Camp in the mountains of Southern California.

Dreadful mistake. For as soon as night falls, Penny starts to panic. While being distracted by her patient, Orianna hits a hitchhiker and stops the car to investigate. She is happy that the hooded man is not seriously hurt and offers him a ride to the camp. That’s the least she could do under the circumstances, she thinks. Another dreadful mistake. For as soon as the women leave their passenger at the camp grounds, they start to discover what he has done to their car, which stalls in the middle of nowhere. From then on, the ‘frightmare’ begins and Orianna and Penny find out what fear really is!

HITS & MISSES: To say that the situation is over-contrived is to say the obvious. Director Richard Brandes follows the slasher-pic tradition, throwing us bits of hope (the lights at the end of the proverbial tunnel) and snuffing them out later on. Most of his plot developments are questionable but these help to enhance the fear factor that Penny has to confront while being mostly trapped in the claustrophobic BMW that may become her coffin.

Throughout the movie, we keep wondering who is this murderous culprit and what does he want? Brandes and the script writers offer some possible suspects: Is he the weird-looking gas pump attendant (Michael Berryman) who looks like he had strayed here from some horror thriller? Or is he the spurned admirer, Ben, who keeps calling Penny on the cell phone? The ending, however, does not impress us.
The film works because of its two leads. Rachel Miner (of “Black Dahlia” fame) gives a credible and memorable performance as the teenage victim who must overcome her fears to survive. Mimi Rogers offers solid support as the caring but misguided therapist. The dark, wooded location also plays a part in working up our sense of dread and the camerawork delivers the goods, playing tricks with the shadows.

THE LOWDOWN:Penny Dreadful” is not as gory as it is advertised to be and we are thankful for that.


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