Penance Lane (Movie Review)

Just how far will a dying town go to bury its past? Horror icons Tyler Mane and Scout Taylor-Compton star in the sinister Penance Lane. Level 33 Entertainment delivers the new Horror-Thriller to On Demand on Tuesday, April 21st, 2020.

The property at 226 Penance Lane has a history. An outwardly cute yellow bungalow with white lattice trim, on the inside, something evil lurks. Fresh out of prison and ready to start over, Crimson Matthews (Mane: X-Men 2000, Halloween II 2009) finds himself faced with a deal he cannot pass up and soon moves into the dilapidated building in the small town. Predictably, on his very first night inside the cursed home, the noises and banging begin.

Penance Lane still

At the Grits n’ Fixin’s cafe, Sherry (Taylor-Compton: Halloween 2007, The Lurker 2020) and her mother Jan (April Bogenschutz: Dark Roads 79 2017, Dynasty series) are welcoming and friendly, warning Matthews to avoid the yellow bungalow. Town benefactor, Father John (John Schneider: The Dukes of Hazzard series, Smallville series), is also open to the idea of second chances, though Sheriff Denny (Daniel Roebuck: The Fugitive 1993, 3 from Hell 2019) and his son, Tony (Michael Leavy: Terrifier 2016, Abnormal Attraction 2018), are anything but congenial.

Add to these tensions the ominous noises in the night, a locked and steel-bolted basement door, and a promise made to Matthews’ ex-cellmate, Shooter (Booker Huffman: WCW Monday Nitro series, WWE Smackdown! series), during a game of chess. Soon it becomes clear that Matthews has some ghosts of his own—but are they more deadly than what’s lurking in the basement?

Clocking in at 84 minutes, Penance Lance was directed by Peter Engert (Loving the Bad Man 2010, Aftermath 2014) and written by first-timer Munier Sharrieff along with Renae Geerlings (Compound Fracture 2014) and The Granger Brothers (Quarter Pounder with Cheese short 2009, Crazy Dracula Spring Break Weekend short 2011), Matt and Mikey.

The film also features the acting talents of William Tokarsky (Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell series, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle 2017), Travis Love (The Walking Dead series, Black Panther 2018), Troy Brenna (X-Men 2000, Star Trek 2009), Diamond Dallas Page (The Devil’s Rejects 2005, All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite series), and Writer Renae Geerlings.

Billed as a Horror-Thriller, Penance Lane blends elements of Horror with plenty of action, crime thrills, small town drama, and more to create its cross-genre experience. With a cast that is heavily padded with Horror icons and wrestling talents, along with an amorphous tale that sits somewhere in the Horror-Thriller range, it’s hard not to make some base comparisons to the recent 2019 CM Punk vehicle Girl on the Third Floor. Much like the aforementioned film, Penance Lane suffers from a multitude of issues.

Penance Lane still

The film’s biggest problem is its sloppiness—in its writing as well as its attention to detail. We’re talking about a story that initially sets itself up as a Supernatural Thriller before, in its second act, flipping onto its side and pursuing an action-packed, Crime Drama-esque angle. Which is not necessarily a flaw, though it does seem to be more an attempt at compensating for its generic and poorly-crafted tale rather than anything else. Without giving anything about this twist away, let’s just say that it’s not satisfying in the least, and the story feels as though it was duct-taped together at the very last moment. Add to this an utter disregard for continuity that results in two different houses starring as 226 Penance Lane along with scenes where blood smears jump around as the characters are running, and it often feels like the creators of the film hoped that their cast’s star credit alone would be enough to propel their faulty vehicle.

In fact, some moviegoers might automatically assume that it is the cast who are apt to be this movie’s downfall, but in most cases they are actually its saving grace. Though his time onscreen is limited, Huffman makes a phenomenal Scream Queen when the time calls for it, and shows that his acting chops are also fairly impressive. Even further limited in their antics, Love, Brenna, and Page all provide solid performances in their roles. Similarly, though they are given much more to work with, Tokarsky, Geerlings, Roebuck and Bogenschutz all do a fine job, as well.

Unfortunately, while the recent The Lurker (2020) allowed Taylor-Compton to show off some of her legitimate acting abilities, she takes a step backward in Penance Lane and is largely reduced to the role of the token Scream Queen. Her Sherry is sweet and likable, and she does good with what she’s given—but it’s not much. In fact, many of her scenes are just odd. Take, for instance, a moment when she is running for her life, trips, and ends up with blood on both her hands. Instead of continuing to try to escape, she pauses to smear a bloody handprint onto the chest of her t-shirt. One hand only. It’s just bizarre—and not even in the usual ‘Horror characters make bad decisions’ sense.

Mane, however, is given much more to work with and, for this, he shines. His imposing figure and stern facial expressions make him believable as an ex-con, but his attitude is soft enough to keep him likable. In this, Matthews is the man that you want to trust is truly going to start over for good. And while he certainly has his moments that test his renewed goodness, Mane delivers a character who is gruff, violent when provoked, but also manages to maintain that level of likability. His perfect foil in many senses, Schneider’s Father John is eerie from the first moment he graces the screen—perhaps because he refers to the house as “old girl.” Just a little too friendly and trusting, full of vainglorious pride, he is the perfect opposite of Mane’s Matthews.

Penance Lane still

Clearly its cast do their very best, though Penance Lane is really just a dime a dozen tale about a small town and an ex-con, both with secrets. This banal story and many of its cliche tropes (i.e. the backwards small town sheriff, ex-con starting over, evil pastor, etc.) end up being difficult to overlook when matched with its multitude of sloppy errors. While not intended to be comedic—though it does have moments of sharp wit—you can’t help but giggle as Taylor-Compton struggles inside manacles that the camera is trying desperately to hide, because they are clearly three sizes larger than her wrists.

Due to a complete disregard for simple details such as this, Penance Lane seems as though it was doomed to mediocrity from day one. However, its cast never say die and fight until the very end, providing an experience that, while not particularly memorable, is at least survivable for its succinct run time. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Penance Lane 3 of 5 stars.

Level 33 Entertainment

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