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Penny Dreadful (2006)

Director: Richard Brandes
Starring: Rachel Miner, Mimi Rogers
Rated R Running time: 98 minutes
Released by Lionsgate Home Entertainment

It takes guts to make a horror film that consists of little more than 98 minutes of a frightened girl who is trapped in a car while being stalked by a killer. Penny Dreadful, one of the Eight Films to Die For, shows us that without an inventive screenplay or any interesting developments, it can end feeling like a 300 minute horror film about a frightened girl who is trapped in a car while being stalked by a killer.

Rachel Miner is Penny, a young woman who survived a gory car accident which took the lives of her parents. Her shrink, Orianna (Mimi Rogers), is convinced that Penny's crippling fear of cars (yes, cars) can be be doctored away by returning to the scene of the accident. While Rogers is trying to drive and lecture Penny at the same time, she strikes a hitchhiker who was standing in the road. Up to this point, you have no reason, aside from the new agey psychobabble she is spouting, to believe that Rogers' character is mentally challenged. But you have to wonder when, after ensuring that the everyone is OK, she offers the snaggle-toothed, gray-skinned hitcher a ride. The two women realize that this probably wasn't such a good idea after the hitchhiker offers them a bite of some kind of mystery meat that is dangling from a skewer. Sufficiently freaked out, they drop the weirdo off and try to high-tail it back to civilization. Just as you'd probably expect, the two don't get very far because the hitchhiker has slashed one of their tires. Rogers goes out for help, while Penny takes a couple of tranquilizers and nods out. When she wakes, a dead Orianna is sitting next to her, and the disabled car is now firmly wedged between two trees. So now Penny is trapped, in the thing she fears the most, by someone that she will come to fear even more.

Penny Dreadful feels like it wants to do something unique or interesting, but changes its mind at the last minute. Most of the film's action takes place inside of the wrecked car, where Miner does a excellent job of acting very, very afraid. Unfortunately, that is the only moment of originality in the script, and tedium sets in quickly once you realize that this is the same movie you have already seen a hundred times before. It's a little bit of a cheat - we spend a good chunk of the movie thinking that something will happen to tie Penny's traumatic past to the mysterious hitchhiker, or that there will be an inventive twist ending, or something, anything, to make this movie become more than a by-the-numbers slasher film. It never happens. Three characters are introduced in the second act, seemingly for no other reason than as a way for the screenwriters to appease the God of Cinematic Cliches. They supply us one one brief sex scene, and three unexciting death scenes, but do nothing to add to the story in any way. These scenes just act as padding on a film that, at 98 minutes, is already far longer than it needs to be. Between the scene where Penny realizes that she is stuck in the car, to her final confrontation with the hitchhiker, almost nothing of any importance happens. If they had chopped this film down to an hour or so, they might have had something worthwhile.

Rogers deserves a good sportsmanship award for being willing to spend much of her screen time playing dead, and Miner gives a better performance than the weak script deserves. I would only recommend Penny Dreadful to people who like to see Rachel Miner cry, or who enjoy looking at automobile upholstery.

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