Penny Dreadful (2006)

Penny Dreadful (click for larger image)Starring Rachel Miner, Mimi Rogers, Mickey Jones

Directed by Richard Brandes

Distributed by After Dark Films and Lionsgate Home Entertainment

They say air travel is a hell of a lot safer than driving. If you ask me, this is mainly because one cannot pull over at thirty-five thousand feet to pick up a hitchhiker. I do not care what the circumstances are. There’s no fucking way you will ever see me, or anyone I am in a car with, offer a ride to someone that we do not know. But alas, if characters in horror films did not do stupid things, then we wouldn’t have anything interesting to watch.

Meet Penny (Miner). She’s your average ordinary scarred-for-life teen that’s trying to overcome her fear of automobiles. What happened to our protagonist to make her so fearful of jalopies, you ask? A horrible accident of course! After her parents’ car is flipped, young Penny awakens from her injuries just in time to see her mother bleed out and die right in front of her. Yep, a little violent paternal death can go a long way in terms of knocking the old screws loose.

So what’s a young girl to do? Stick to riding ten speeds? Crank up the Dashboard Confessional and drown her sorrows in whiny emo music? Nope! Find a good therapist and make with the heavy drugs, that’s what! YAY!

Penny Dreadful (click for larger image)As a means of therapy, Penny’s uber-bitchy doctor (Rogers) decides that the best way to help her patient overcome her phobia is to drive out to the scene of the tragedy to help poor Penny come full circle. After all, cars are relatively harmless, right? What are the odds things could go wrong again? Pretty friggin’ good. Things take a turn for the worse when our traveling twosome end up hitting a hitchhiker with their car. Unfortunately for them, their soon-to-be passenger is OK. At least in the physical sense. As a means to say “Sorry, didn’t mean to scramble your innards,” the doctor offers their new friend a ride to his destination. From here things start going downhill for our duo fast.

Most of Penny Dreadful takes place within the confines of an automobile. This both works and fails at the same time. Director Brandes does a good job of using the car to create a claustrophobic atmosphere for his film, but when your main set piece consists of just four seats, boredom is bound to set in sooner or later. To make up for the lack of locales, Brandes gives us quite a few moments of the hitchhiker playing cat and mouse with the intended prey, but these moments, although plentiful, suffer from pacing issues. Watching Penny Dreadful is akin to being in a car with someone who’s riding the brake. We speed up, then stop. Speed up, then stop. Speed up, then stop. You get the idea.

The worst part is that the breaks in the action are for the most part needless. This film needs an editor! We do not need to see dozens of shots of the car at every conceivable angle. We do not need to see Penny taking her pills several times. Eating several times. Crying several times. Sleeping several times. Enough already! If this film were at least ten minutes shorter, it would have been a winner because when the action does come, it’s pretty fierce.

Penny Dreadful (click for larger image)Rachel Miner does an admirable job of keeping things moving. She carries this film upon her shoulders and seemingly never gets weary of the task. You can feel her fear, her exhaustion, and her anger. It’s right there on her face the entire time.

Good needs evil, and evil is exactly what the hitchhiker is. Truly, this character is a prick supreme. Our antagonist is downright mean and goes to great lengths to make sure that Penny is fucked with in the most horrible ways possible. When seeing this character onscreen, you picture it as the embodiment of malevolence. That is until the facial reveal.

For the better part of the film, all we get to see of the hitchhiker is the bottom half of the face. Pale skin. Rotted teeth. Cracked lips. Evil. The rest of the hitchhiker’s face is shrouded by an over-sized hood. When the hood finally gets pulled back, the result is that of a pasty faced Goth with a bad haircut and even worse teeth. This took me right out of the movie. It should never have happened. The imagination can cook up far scarier visions than anything a make-up artist can create. Less can be more, and that, my fiends, is the moral of this review.

Penny Dreadful needs less of everything. Less hitchhiker reveal, less needless exposition, — and most of all — less minutes making up its run time. Somewhere in here there is a great flick hiding; however, as is, it’s dreadfully too long.

2 1/2 out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.