Home | Film Review: Penance (2009)

Film Review: Penance (2009)


Amelia is a single mother trying to do right in these hard times. Amelia has a problem though when she learns about her daughter’s medical problems, and the money that it will eventually cost. Amelia decides to make an audition tape to get onto a television show in hopes of raising the money for her debt and future hospital costs. Her desperation for money leads her on a different path than she would have ever expected, and another world is about to open up right before her eyes.


Directed by: Jake Kenned
Starring: Marieh Delfino, Alice Amter, Graham McTavish

“We have a bleeder here, is there a doctor in the house?”

The POV film is once again popular, and it is starting to find its way into all of the subgenres in horror. We have seen POV films dealing with serial killers (August Underground), giant monsters attacking cities (Cloverfield), and haunted houses (Paranormal Activity); needless to say it was only a matter of time before the POV film found its way into another subgenre. Jake Kennedy’s 2009 film Penance finds the POV film heading right into the “torture-p*rn” subgenre, before you sigh and pass the title by though hear me out. Penance, although I would put it into the “torture-p*rn” category takes a few precautions and actually comes out a clever little title.

Penance starts by showing words on the screen letting the viewer know that the footage they are about to see was found at an asylum, along with fourteen dead bodies. I told you to quit sighing; I know I’ve seen it before too. After the set up we are quickly introduced to Amelia. Amelia is a struggling single mother who has a lot of debt. Amelia’s daughter is sick and although there aren’t any hospital bills just yet they are soon going to be piling up and her job at a battered woman’s shelter isn’t going to put much of a dent in them.

Penance is a POV film so Amelia simply talks to her friend who is holding the camera. She is making an audition tape for a television show, which is a great idea by director Jake Kennedy as it sets up the character of Amelia and introduces the viewer to her struggle. During these initial scenes Amelia does seem happy with her daughter; it isn’t for a few minutes that you learn her plight and how she really does need the money.

Amelia has a friend who she has grown up with that took a different route in life. Amelia’s friend is a stripper or dancer as she likes to be called. Her friend however doesn’t work in a club on a pole, she dances at private parties. Amelia upon hearing how much money her friend makes decides maybe she should try “dancing” for a while; I mean her friend makes five hundred dollars after only one night of dancing and how hard it can really be. Amelia learning how to strip also allows her to beef up her audition tape by showing just how much she needs the money.

While filming one of her friends parties Amelia learns about the dark side of exotic dancing. One of the guests at the party (James Duval in a cameo appearance) corners her in a room and just as it’s about to get ugly her friend quickly comes in and the two of them leave. The next few scenes in the film are kind of amusing to watch as Amelia’s friend tries to teach her the art of strip tease, Amelia stumbles through the routines and is obviously uncomfortable with her choice.

The time finally comes however for Amelia to make her debut as a dancer, she even apologizes to the camera and her daughter stating that her love for her daughter is the only reason that she is about to do it. At first it appears that Amelia isn’t going to do it, but before you can even blink there she is dressed in a sexy police uniform talking in a mock British accent. During her dance Amelia does everything right, it isn’t until the end of the dance that she becomes embarrassed and runs out of the room. When the group goes to leave Amelia is handed five hundred dollars from her friend, as she takes the money she informs her friend that she just really doesn’t think that she could continue to do the job.

Amelia is soon called by her friend who has been assaulted. Working in a battered women’s shelter Amelia quickly grabs the camera and goes over to see her friend who answers the door with a nice black eye. Amelia’s friend tells her about the job offer that she was given; she obviously can’t do it because of the bruises. Amelia at first doesn’t want to do the job, however money does talk and the offer of three thousand dollars for a nights work is just too hard to resist. Amelia says she will do the job and on the next day a chauffeur (yet another cameo this time by Tony Todd) shows up to the house. The man doesn’t tell them where they are going; even the windows of the limo are blacked out. When Amelia gets to where the party is going to be she meets two other “dancers”.

The dancers are called into a room to dance in front of only a handful of people who are hidden in the shadows. Their dances are hardly erotic however as there isn’t any music. The girls make their motions as if there is music and then are sent into another room. After their dance the girls go into another room and enjoy glasses of champagne when another guy walks in (yet another cameo this time by Michael Rooker) to inform them that indeed the women are in trouble.

Jake Kennedy’s Penance then takes a different route all together, gone are all the jokes and laughter from the scenes before. The strippers are kidnapped by a man named Graeme Reeves, a former surgeon himself. Reeves has determined that the strippers need to be purified so they can one day walk in the kingdom of Heaven instead of suffering through the pains of Hell. Reeves’s techniques of purification however are pretty messy, and it comes in the form of various tests.
The film still maintains its POV set up by introducing yet another character who works for Reeves who also carries around a camera. This leads to two POV angles for the story, and does make things very interesting.

Reeves purification techniques like I said up there are pretty messy. The dancers are flogged with whips, electrocuted by tasers, beaten and by far the most disturbing Reeves performs surgery on the girls to remove the “sin” from their bodies. I know I can hear you sighing already but Jake Kennedy has definitely went to the school of “the less is better” when it comes to seeing these acts on the screen. Most of these violent acts against the women are simply implied for instance you see at least two women’s backs after being flogged with the whip, but you only see one women whipped on camera.

The most disturbing thing about Jake Kennedy’s Penance however is that you don’t get one or even two, that’s right you get three acts of genital mutilation. The scenes are done very tasteful, again with the less is more frame of mind. Though most of what is going on is hidden from the lens of the camera it still doesn’t make these scenes any easier to watch. Reeves performing surgery on Amelia is definitely one of the hardest scenes I have watched in a film released this year.
Jake Kennedy’s Penance is yet another entry into the POV market of the horror genre, I honestly think there will be a rise in this type of film because the budget is so easy to attain. Kennedy however takes what budget he has, adds in some awesome special FX and some characters you actually can care about and comes out with a very clever and well put together modern exploitation film. It definitely belongs on the shelves of those who like their horror a little bit nasty.

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