Peter Engert’s Penance Lane is a fun and silly ride that leaves the viewer satisfactorily entertained. It is no work of art, but it doesn’t need to be. Not every film has to move the needle forward and sometimes clear-cut amusement is sufficient for success...
...One factor that makes Penance Lane so enjoyable is the reunion of Scout Taylor-Compton and Tyler Mane, who many will remember as Laurie Strode and Michael Meyers from Rob Zombie’s Halloween films. Watching these two in a film where they’re not trying to kill each other makes it compelling from the start.
Penance Lane tells the tale of ex-convict Crimson Matthews (Mane) who arrives in a small town on a mission to find the money his friend Shooter (Booker Huffman) lost in a house at the end of Penance Lane, as shown in the prologue of the film. Upon arriving, he befriends a local at seemingly the only restaurant in town, which is run by a mother and daughter (Compton). There he is told of Father John, who extended loans to keep the town afloat.
Father John is described as a “good man,” who now owns the very house on Penance Lane where Crimson hopes to retrieve the money left behind by Shooter. Crimson seeks an employment opportunity cleaning up the house and is hired by the “good man” himself, played brilliantly by John Schnieder. This is when the story kicks in, as nothing is as it seems and the house is brimming with secrets and things that go bump in the night. There are shades of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes but instead of the mutants living in the hill, they are inside the house at the end of Penance Lane. Crimson’s mission grows beyond a search for the money he promised and becomes a quest to find out what is going on in this sleepy town and what lurks inside the house.
It’s gut-wrenchingly powerful and though it’s violent, it never goes too far. The film has more twists and turns than many of its contemporaries while telling exactly the story one would expect. That is the film’s greatest strength - it lives firmly in all of the anticipated cliques, but without the genre trappings that could have left it unremarkable. Good characters aren’t as noble as they would lead you to believe, such as the captain of the police force (Daniel Roebuck) who typically hates strangers in his town and is especially not fond of one of them being recently released from prison. It plays superbly on social commentary.
One thing that might detract viewers is that the acting can be quite over the top, with each actor seeming to play an exaggerated caricature version of their role. It works in this film but would not in others, due solely to the commitment the skilled cast brings to the script. They allow themselves to exist in the world that is created. An example is the outrageous, abusive boyfriend of Sherry (Compton), who is perfectly ridiculous and complemented by Crimson’s equal intensity in the scene. It creates an unexpectedly appealing dynamic that would fall flat or be considered overacting if it were not a team effort.
Though where Penance Lane does fall short is in the story and the high number of unnecessary variables that keep it from reaching its full potential. Right when things start to head in a solid direction, the script by Munier Sharrieff veers off into places that it just does not need to go. Case and point, Diamond Dallas Page (another Zombie player) shows up and delivers a gun and two red shirts, which one would assume signifies the Motorcycle gang that Crimson used to be in… perhaps still is? It’s unclear and it jolts the story out of its momentum. Another subplot involves the original owner of the house, Crazy Ray (William Tokarsky) intermittently popping in and out of the narrative without actually contributing anything of substance.
The biggest offense of these aimless storylines is that it perpetuates the misuse of Scout Taylor-Compton as an actor. Her character serves some purpose as one of the only allies Crimson makes in the town, but she is mostly just… there until converting into the standard damsel in distress. It is a shame that such an adept and multifaceted actor has not been able to showcase her range since stealing the show in Zombie’s Halloween films. It feels like since those films are often maligned as not being good (not to this reviewer, by the way), no one knows what to do with her and she is continually cast in roles far beneath her ability. This film is no exception and predictably squanders her talents and wastes an opportunity for her to take the entire production to new heights. Mark this reviewer’s words, if we ever get to see Scout Taylor-Compton back in the driver’s seat, she will win awards. She has the versatility and wisdom to wow us. Hopefully, screenwriters and filmmakers will realize this soon.
All in all Penance Lane is a fun flick that defies convention and is definitely worth at least an escapism rental during these uncertain times.
Arrive at Penance Lane when it releases On Demand April 21st through Level 33 Entertainment.
By Justin Drabek
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