Review by James Lindorf
Seeking a little honest work on his road to redemption, Crimson Matthews takes on the task of cleaning up a dilapidated house owned by the small town’s preacher. Crimson has had a lot of things to fear in his life, rival motorcycle gangs, guards, other prisoners, but nothing compares to what he finds on “Penance Lane”. What began as tough and dirty job turns deadly as Crimson discovers an unspeakable evil lurking in the house. If he isn’t careful, trying to unearth the secrets of a dying town will result in the home being Crimson’s latest prison and his final resting place. “Penance Lane” stars horror and television icons like Tyler Mane (Halloween I & II), Scout Taylor-Compton (Halloween I & II) and John Schneider (The Dukes of Hazzard), Daniel Roebuck (The Man in the High Castle) and a couple of WWE Hall of Famers Booker T and Diamond Dallas Page. “Penance Lane” will be available on Video on Demand platforms starting April 21st.
“Penance Lane” has all the hallmarks of a low budget horror film. Subpar lighting in scenes makes details hard to pick out. Basic cinematography did nothing to add to the tension and sometimes reduced it. Of course, as with many low budget films, there were some less than fantastic line reads because there simply wasn’t enough money for all necessary reshoots. What is has that most of those films dream of is an experienced and talented cast. Having a cast that can deliver their lines and handle the action and terror required separates “Penance Lane” from the pack of films currently littering streaming services like Shudder. Shortly after Crimson’s arrival, Mane’s physicality turns the movie from pure horror to an action-horror film where things that go bump in the night are traded for punches and kicks. Even though he is in his early 50’s, Mane is still a large and imposing figure perfect for the gruff ex-con. It is believable that 6’8” and 200+ pounds he could stand up against forces that quickly wiped out others. The biggest problem with the casting is that Scout is no longer credible as a young woman still in her teens. It doesn’t hurt the film, but it is a bit of a laughable moment.
Mane bringing in someone he worked with multiple ties to play a role she isn’t a perfect fit for isn’t surprising, and it isn’t quite as laughable as one facial prosthetic. The mask combines Leatherface and The Phantom of the opera and appears to have been built buy Oscar-Meyer. The rest of the props are better designed and receive less focus than this facepiece, making them look even better. If time or money allowed, I have to believe that the director Péter Engert would have gone with a second option, but the budget struck again.
The story of “Penance Lane” could have been a lot of things with just a few changes. It could easily be a straight action film in the vein of Steven Seagal’s “Fire Down Below,” or torture porn like “Hostel.” A story with just a little more meat on its bones and the cast will help the movie stand out a little from its peers, but the rest of the quality is below the standards for mass appeal.