Penance (2009) Content Warning: Strong, Graphic Violence, Sadism, Sexual Scenes, Bad Language (though that’s the least of your problems)
Directed by Jake Kennedy
Starring Marieh Delfino, Jason Connery, Michael Rooker, Graham McTavish
A young mother decides to become a stripper to earn some fast cash only to find her worst nightmares are about to begin.
IMDb Rating: 3.6
Penance, Not in the Disc Priest Way
Before reading this review for Penance, please make note of the content warning at the top of this page. If you’re of a sensitive disposition and haven’t already read it, I strongly recommend you take a quick look at my note on Movie Musings.
This may sound like I’m being an overbearing mother, but Penance is not for the faint-hearted. I am a difficult to phase woman. When my fellow writer/horror-fan C. John Archer told me about a certain scene in this little number, my morbid curiosity took over. I had to check it out. Holy hell. I kinda feel dirty.
From this point on, I’ll assume that you’ve read the warnings and decided to continue anyway. Fair enough.
Penance is a found-footage horror movie. In a similar vein to recently-reviewed Girl House, a young woman, Amelia (Marieh Delfino) needs cash. She starts off filming a week of her life as part of an audition tape for a reality TV show. During this week, her friend Suzie (Eve Mauro) encourages her to take up stripping as a means of making some easy cash, and also gain some self-confidence, apparently. Despite almost being sexually assaulted while watching Suzie perform, Amelia is enticed by the money on offer and reluctantly takes up stripping.
Never That Easy
Suzie gets herself beaten up and asks Amelia to take over on a job for her. Apparently, some rich guy wants to pay a huge sum for a private party in the middle of nowhere. Again, reluctantly, but still willing to brush off the bad shit that’s happened to both her and Suzie in the space of a couple of days, Amelia agrees. She and her cameraman are picked up by the Candyman (Tony Todd) and taken on a jaunt to this party. The Candyman is very rude and intimidating throughout the journey, but Amelia is still driven by the thought of an easy payday.
After performing a very short striptease along with some other girls, it seems like it’s job done! Champagne and cash are offered. And then Michael Rooker shows up…
Things start to go downhill from here.
Amelia finds herself at the mercy of religious fanatic, Geeves (Graham McTavish). He is determined to punish strippers for their sins. Geeves is very specifically only after strippers. Frankly, I think there are worse people in the world but it’s not my lunacy under scrutiny here. In order to cleanse them of their sins, Geeves and his band of merry super-sadists put the girls through a series of challenges to save them so that they can avoid purgatory.
That’s the plot out of the way.
What follows is an increasingly violent and nasty little film. There’s mutilation of people’s “fun parts”, including some self-inflicted testicle-tearing. Beating, flogging, all of that to satisfy Geeves’ desire for penance.
Enough To Make You Ill
If this isn’t bad enough for you, because it’s found-footage, it’s also shaky-cam galore! Clearly desiring to cash in on the popularity of movies such as [REC], everything in Penance is found-footage style. This leads to some convoluted explanations for why everything has been filmed. Amelia is auditioning. Geeves is documenting his “therapy” sessions. We’re treated to scenes where Amelia, while attempting to escape, is filming herself running down the corridor with the camera held in-front of her. Of course, she repeatedly says that she’s doing this so she can provide evidence to the authorities. It’s a little unconvincing though.
Another little annoyance caused by the stylistic choice of the filmmakers is that the audio quality is pretty terrible. I can only assume that to make it more authentic, they used the microphones on the handheld cameras rather than a boom mike. One character has a particularly thick European accent and if you’re as crap at understanding accents as I am, you’re gonna have a bad time. The lighting is also bad, again, in pursuit of authenticity.
This really is one of those films only worth checking out to satisfy morbid curiosity. It’s offensive to pretty much everyone – Christians, women, men, good taste. In Penance‘s defence, it’s not badly acted, although by the midway point the bulk of the dialogue is screaming. Graham McTavish is pretty good in it – enough to make you forget he played Dwalin in The Hobbit movies. He isn’t good enough to make you forget he was also Warden Ackerman in Red Dwarf VIII. That may, of course, be because I could actually see Warden Ackerman doing something like this, even if Red Dwarf is a comedy show.
Marieh Delfino is believable in her role, and Rooker and Todd provide good cameos.
On the whole though, it is not technically accomplished enough, and the narrative isn’t strong enough, to elevate it above standard low-grade exploitation fare. You could possibly argue that there’s a cautionary commentary about how much danger someone will put themselves in for money, or for love, but I can’t help but feel such arguments would be crediting this film a little too much.
It is, basically, a grizzly found-footage exploitation film. However, to make it worse, Geeves is not an entirely fictional creation. He is based on Australian now-former gynaecologist and obstetrician, Graeme Stephen Reeves.