Penance (2009)
By: Captain Red Eye on May 11, 2010  | 
DVD
IMD | All Regions, NTSC | 1.77:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 82 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Jake Kennedy
Starring: Marieh Delfino, Graham McTavish, Alice Amter, Valorie Hubbard
Screenplay: Jake Kennedy
Country:
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Somewhat ambitiously described by writer/director Jake Kennedy as "the ultimate low budget movie" and not to be confused with the August Underground outing, Penance revolves around struggling single mother Amelia (Marieh Delfino) who, having falling on hard times, decides to do the only logical thing: earn a bit of cash on the side by getting her kit off for the blokes.

Graham McTavish, who had a supporting role in Rambo as an insufferable git with a murderous bent, here stars as an insufferable git with a distinctly murderous bent. Unfortunately for first-time dancer Amelia his hobby is kidnapping 'immoral' young ladies (mostly strippers) and imprisoning them in an abandoned asylum named, in good B-movie fashion, 'The Liechtenstein Hospital for the Criminally Insane.' Then, utilising a highly selective interpretation of scripture and various rhetorical devices, he lectures them in some detail as to said immorality before unceremoniously cutting off their lady parts. This gives rise to one of the film's more noteworthy lines: "I'm going to remove your fun bits." The girls' reward after all the lengthy sermonising and DIY surgery, in case you were wondering, is a bullet to the head. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer's Michael Rooker offers his assistance as a relentlessly maniacal hit man, and rounding out the triumvirate of ne'er-do-wells is a stern and matronly Alice Amter (A Man Apart) whose job is to whip the girls into shape, and occasionally just to whip them.

Utilising the found footage conceit to good effect this ambitious film makes the most of its microscopic budget, mainly by employing a veritable smorgasbord of C-list talent. Tony Todd cameos as a limo driver responsible for transporting the doomed girls to the hospital, and James "Still best known for playing the rabbit in Donnie Darko" Duval pops up briefly, as does Lochlyn Munro, himself best-forgotten for having portrayed a demented jock in Dead Man on Campus and a bumbling cop in Freddy vs. Jason. Thankfully however Delfino proves a natural and thoroughly competent lead, and there is enough wanton brutality and downright nuttiness to make this one of the more entertaining indie outings of late.
Video
The 16:9 widescreen transfer is excellent and there are no visual defects to speak of. The hand-held stuff is jumpily authentic and picture quality consistently solid throughout. Kennedy favours an achromatic palette in the asylum itself, but this is effectively rendered and elsewhere the colorisation, as on Amelia's early home video footage, is suitably vivid.
Audio
The 5.1 surround mix is more than adequate. The score itself is minimal and mostly consists of subtly atmospheric keyboard jags, and despite variable sound levels there aren't any problems making out the dialogue on the home video/found footage segments.
Extra Features
Kennedy certainly hasn't fucked about in this regard. All in all there are: three alternate endings; five deleted scenes; a three-minute 'How to Strip' featurette starring Delfino and her sexy co-star Eve Mauro; some silly but enjoyable cast interviews in character; a 23-minute Behind the Scenes featurettea detailed 'Anatomy of a Scene' which runs a further 15 minutes and incorporates rehearsal footage and scene blocking techniques; a 19-minute director interview where Kennedy discusses the film's financing, casting and production; a fairly mundane four-minute location scouting featurette; trailers for Penance and other B-movie fare like the fantastic looking No Rest For the Wicked; two audio commentaries. The first of these is with Jake Kennedy, and in addition to analysing the feature in some detail provides an interesting insight into the filmmaking process. Possibly too many remarks along the lines of "This scene was originally longer..." but the man is certainly passionate about his work. The second commentary features Kennedy and his producer Will Clevinger, and deals with the technical, financing and pre-production side of shooting a feature, as well as with scripting, casting and the practicalities of finding distribution. Both are extremely detailed and give an enlightening glimpse into each stage of the filmmaking process.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The first half of the film is great, though I'm not sure the remainder quite lives up to its promise. Despite being touted for its graphic nature Penance, for my money, winds up being lean on torture and long on McTavish's tortuous soliloquies. Still it's an enjoyable and engaging low-budget affair, and the plethora of bonus features make it a very tidy package overall. Besides which any film in which Eve Mauro stars as a stripper automatically gets three very enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

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