Penny Dreadful (2006)

It would be easy to dismiss Penny Dreadful with a cheap pun on its title but in actual fact, it’s not dreadful, it’s just not that great. As a child, Penny was involved in a terrible car crash that saw her Mother bleed to death right in front of her. Cut to the present day and it’s left her with a debilitating fear of cars that causes her to travel everywhere by bicycle and take sedatives with worrying regularity. Her therapist decides to take her on a retreat that will take them down the same road the crash occurred on, all those years ago. Her intention is to cure Penny and help her live a normal life but after unexpectedly picking up a hitch-hiker, events instead end up escalating her phobia. Trapped in a car, surrounded by pitch black darkness, in the middle of nowhere with a murderer outside; can Penny keep it together long enough to survive to see another day?

Rachel Miner (better known as the ex Mrs. Teen Macauley Culkin) takes on the lead role of Penny with relative enthusiasm and does a good job of embodying the frightened and vulnerable young protagonist but sadly Mimi Rogers is under-used as the pious therapist. There are few other actors involved as almost all of the action takes place inside or just outside of the car which leaves little need for the occasional passer-by and rightly so; an excess of peripheral characters would have stripped the film of any believability.

The characters that are introduced however, are given pointless back-story and then swiftly used as killer-fodder without so much as a second thought. The unnecessary scenes building them up feel very much like filler material and distract from the matter at hand.

Boasting some genuinely creepy moments, Penny Dreadful expertly uses camera angles and trickery to pull the viewer right into Penny’s world. The close-up shots and sound effects work fantastically to help the audience emotionally connect with her but unfortunately most of these techniques are overly long or over-used and after a while, become tedious. If a little more subtlety had been applied then it would have made for an altogether more terrifying experience but it’s difficult not to become bored when seeing the same things repeated time and time again.

Besides the titular phone booth in, you guessed it, Phone Booth and the elevator in Black Out, the car in Penny Dreadful is about as limited a set as I’ve ever seen in film. Placing such restrictions on the movie was a bold move and when it works, it works really well. Regrettably, by the same token, when it doesn’t work, it’s flat and uninspiring.

If the pacing had been quicker, the running time shorter and the ending a little less ridiculous, Penny Dreadful could have been a great little horror movie. As it stands, it’s merely mediocre with some moderately effective scares and a cameo from genre favourite Michael Berryman. It could have been worse but with a bit more thought and lot more editing, it could have been much, much better.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

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