Hey, all you horror heads out there. I hope everyone is staying safe and washing their hands! Anyway, I’m back with another review and this time we’re digging into PENANCE LANE, which is directed by Peter Engert.
From the jump, this film sets a serious tone right within the opening sequence. With a clever display of the title card as well, I was immediately sucked in and knew I was in for some kind of ride. The film is centered around Crimson Matthews (played by Tyler Mane), who’s an ex-con that was recently released from prison. He stumbles into a small, seemingly Southern town, looking for work and to fulfill a promise he made to his cellmate, Shooter, who is played by Booker Huffman aka Booker T.
As soon as Crimson makes his way into town he finds trouble with the Sheriff’s piece of garbage spousal abusing son and the ‘good ol boy’ sheriff. Within all of that, he also finds interest in a woman working at what seems to be the only restaurant in town. Shortly after this, he finds a job from a posting asking for a caretaker of the house on PENANCE LANE and is hired by a local preacher.
Within the first night that Crimson stays at the house, he experiences something strange. You see what looks like a disfigured woman enter his room while he’s sleeping and that causes some sort of ruckus off-camera on the other side of the door. This is followed up the next day by some teenagers sneaking into the house to party, which results in them and Crimson being attacked by what I can only describe as some Frankenstein’s Army type of people or creatures. They’re like weird human science experiments. There are a few scenes that involve these creatures ‘whooshing’ characters into the darkness off-screen. This is a tactic in horror films that I’ve never found effective for myself but likely works well on people who don’t regularly watch horror films.
After the creature characters make an appearance, this is where the film takes a very hard turn and a twist that I don’t want to reveal. However, I will say this is when you start to see a bit of practical gore that is done effectively. It’s almost all within this attack scene, and the kill that stands out the most to me is a guy that gets stabbed between the legs and immediately begins to leak out everywhere. There’s another scene with a great amount of blood and bones in a caged off area that looked pretty gnarly. Anyway, this is when everything starts to get crazy and the town’s secret is revealed. I honestly didn’t expect this film to turn the way it did and I actually found myself astounded at what was being unveiled in front of me.
I do think it’s important to mention that the characters played a big role in the tone of this film for me. At the beginning of this review, I mentioned there being a ‘serious tone’. This is because our primary character is this ex-con ‘manly man’ that beats people up left and right. The other characters in this film i.e. Sheriff Wilson (played by Daniel Roebuck) and Father John (played by John Schneider), drip with this male empowerment masculinity that shrouds the film. I didn’t mind it for the most part but there were periods during my watch that I felt myself cringe at some of their scenes. There is however a great comic relief character that goes by the name Crazy Ray, who is played by William Tokarsky. You may know him as the killer in the Too Many Cooks short film that aired on Adult Swim and as William the Demon in “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell”, which is also on Adult Swim. Crazy Ray is a character that seemed to be there solely to periodically startle you and yell crazy shit at other characters.
Despite my only gripe of the film being this emphasis on this male empowerment masculinity, I truly enjoyed it. It may have been the science experiment creatures and the level of violence but this film reminded me a bit of Incident in a Ghostland. Even though these films are vastly different, I got strong vibes that reminded me of the latter. I think PENANCE LANE is a film that will find a home nicely nestled next to other Shudder originals on their horror movie streaming platform. Check it out if you get a chance because it’s definitely a fun action, horror flick that holds no bars.
PENANCE LANE will be available on VOD on April 21, 2020.