Penny Dreadful (2006)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2008-06-05 13:00

Written by: Diane Doniol-Valcroze, Arthur Flam, Richard Brandes
Directed by: Richard Brandes

Reviewed by: Brett G.

In 2006, After Dark Films announced Horrorfest, an 8 film horror movie festival that would take place in select American cities in November of that year. Dubbed ďEight Films to Die For,Ē the festival essentially gave eight independent horror films a chance to shine in theaters. Essentially, these were selected by After Dark as the best of the best when it comes to independent horror. Naturally, I was skeptical of the flicks, as theyíre essentially direct-to-video material that just happened to play in theaters for a couple of days. However, I couldnít resist picking up the flicks when they went on sale for $5 apiece late last year, and Iím just now getting around to them.

After finally finding something worthwhile with The Hamiltons, I was a bit more energized by the After Dark series. Next up in my trek is Penny Dreadful, a film whose description brings us back to slasher territory. It concerns a young woman, Penny (Rachel Miner), who has developed an intense phobia of cars since a traumatic childhood accident killed both her parents. The film opens with her embarking on a trek with her psychologist, Orianna, who believes that Penny can conquer her fear by confronting it. Specifically, she and Penny are on their way to the destination Penny and her parents never reached all those years ago in an attempt to bring the entire incident full circle for Penny.

Along the way, however, things begin to unfold predictably: the two ladies pick up a mysterious hitchhiker who leads them to a remote area in the woods. You can figure it out from here: it soon becomes apparent that somethingís not quite right with the hitchhiker, as they begin to exhibit abnormal behavior, like eating raw meat. The hitchhiker then renders the car immobile, and Orianna wanders off in vain in the hopes that her cell phone will pick up a signal. Penny, meanwhile, falls asleep and wakes up with the car pinned between two trees.

All of that occurs within the first half hour, which means a majority of the film finds Penny trapped in the very thing she fears the most. The film does give us a glimpse of other characters in the surrounding area (for example, genre favorite Michael Berryman makes an appearance), but most of the film is about Pennyís inability to escape her confinement as the hitchhiker tortures her both physically and psychologically. While this sounds interesting in theory, the film is anything but. The whole film proceeds in a trite and predictable manner, and thereís nothing interesting hereónot even the characters. Even though the film is really only explicitly concerned with Penny, I didnít really feel much of a connection to the character, which is surprising because Iíve seen Rachel Miner turn in some great performances (Bully, for example). Sheís literally given nothing to do here but sit in a car and act scared, and the character suffers as a result.

On the other side of the equation is our villain, the mysterious hitchhiker. Once again, this character is given nothing to do besides whisper strange things and jump into the frame with accompanying loud music. Itís not scary, nor is it suspenseful. If you canít tell by now, not a whole lot happens in Penny Dreadful, and, when something does happen, thereís no excitement to it. If youíre hoping for some spectacular gore sequences to make the film interesting, think againóthereís barely any of the red stuff here. I can wade my way through a boring flick if thereís at least a few gory treats to save the day, but a film that fails to do that only manages to bore me.

And thatís pretty much the best way to describe Penny Dreadful: itís terribly boring. Sure, the direction is competent, and the very small amount of actual acting is decent, but pretty much nothing happens. Even the entire setup of the film (Pennyís intense phobia of cars) is pretty much ignored until the predictable ending, which also manages to accomplish nothing in the end besides leave a viewer entirely unsatisfied. There are certainly worse-made films out there than Penny Dreadful, but these films still manage to entertain me. For example, its After Dark brethren, Dark Ride, at least had the good sense to deliver the gore and nudity a film needs when its suspense fails it. At this point, I would have to say that this film epitomizes the majority of the After Dark films, as itís an exercise in the mundane and the mediocre. It should have been titled Pretty Dreadful because thatís exactly what it is. Trash it!

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