June 9, 2008

August Underground’s Penance (2007)

After watching Mordum, which was the previous entry in the August Underground series, I in all honesty wasn’t wholly impressed. It was shocking, violent and thoroughly disturbing; my problem though was that for the most part it was a fairly incoherent mess. Constant bickering between the lead characters, at the expense of any real script, and poor camera-work made this a movie that in all likelihood I won’t watch again. So it was with a little trepidation that I approached Penance; what more could they do to this series? Surely pseudo snuff is pseudo snuff, nothing more nothing less, so will I just get more of the same? Well, the answer there is a resounding yes, but there is so much more in this movie, the similarities to Mordum are there for sure, however this is a far superior effect in just about every department.

The movie itself has a minimal plot that follows the exploits of murderers Fred and Christie in scenes that alternate between their “work” and play. We see them messing about and generally having a whale of a time, whether it is out for a walk harassing the homeless or letting off some steam on a firing range. Then without warning, as if you need one, the action will switch to one of the many heinous acts that they perform; no subject is taboo here. It will shock you, fuck, it may even offend you. This is a movie that just when you think they can’t go any further they do.

The movie progresses way the whole time we see the steady decline of the murderer’s mental stability; their inevitable road to self destruction. At one point Fred says “Today is the day that our sins will be over” to the camera, and that perfectly sums up the entire movie. It’s a bleak piece of work that has no real respite, and quite frankly I wouldn’t want any from a movie such as this.

Technically this is leaps and bounds ahead of Mordum, from the camerawork, which although still shaky in places (but that is part of the nature of home videos), is now far more watchable for want of a better word. Bear in mind that the two leads handle all the photography this is no mean feat. All the action is caught on screen leaving nothing, or very little, to the imagination.

The acting and scripting is also far more accomplished; both leads put in truly disturbing performances, whilst also conveying the depth of their relationship to each other. There is far less arguing and much more everyday banter between them which only lent to the realism of the action on screen. Credit must also be given to the numerous victims on display here. They may not have much to say in the way of speaking parts, but the expressions of torment on their faces spoke a thousand words, and the situations in which they find themselves can’t have been the easiest to perform.

August Underground’s Penance is truly an accomplished exercise in pure horror, the real horror of having someone come into your house late at night and putting you through Hell. It is unrelenting in its physical and psychological violence throughout its running time, so that by the end you may just find yourself taking a deep breath and telling yourself “Thank fuck that is over”! That is the highest compliment I can pay this movie. It is sick, depraved and even on the odd occasion humorous. But overall it is a very real horror movie that I recommend to anyone with a strong stomach. Do not watch it if you are easily offended as it will offend you.

Rating 3.5 stars (out of 4)

Review by Jude Felton

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