Joseph’s Review: Penance Lane

★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

You have seen most of the tropes in Penance Lane before, but the cast members give it their all, making for an enjoyable, if uneven, scare-fare diversion. 

Directed by Peter Engert

Often, a horror film that features former professional wrestlers in its cast means that viewers can expect corny performances and a lackluster B-movie, if that — and this is coming from a lifelong pro wrestling fan. Happily, Penance Lane breaks that mold and serves up solid performances from its grappling stars, along with impressive performances from the rest of its cast, which includes reuniting members from Rob Zombie’s Halloween films and other familiar genre film faces. The result is a cast that is absolutely game in an entertaining, if sometimes derivative, fright-fare romp.

After a setpiece at the beginning that sees former World Championship Wrestling [WCW] and World Wrestling Entertainment [WWE] star Booker Huffman (AKA Booker T in the squared circle) featured as the leader of a criminal bunch trying to stash stolen cash in a house. They are attacked by seemingly supernatural unseen forces, and the film then goes into dramatic action gear as recently sprung convict-with-a-good-heart Crimson Matthews (former WCW wrestler Tyler Mane of Halloween [2007], Halloween II [2009], and X-Men [2000]) rolls into a small town and asks the owner of a cafe (April Bogenschutz of Dark Roads 79 [2017] as Jan) and her daughter (Scout Taylor-Compton of Halloween [2007], Halloween II [2009], and loads more horror movies)  about a house fixer-upper job he saw advertised. This leads him to being hired on by man of the cloth Father John (John Schnieder of Lake Placid 2 [2007] and The Curse [1987]) to work on a dilapidated house on the titular stretch of road. 

Fangoria! Woo!

Matthews confronts something disturbing on his first night at the house, but naturally he stays on, and after a visit from old buddy Hyson (former WCW grappler “Diamond” Dallas Page of The Devil’s Rejects [2005]), the film dives into horror territory with an action bent, featuring torture, fisticuffs, betrayals, and chances at narrow escapes that don’t always work out. 

Director Peter Engert does a nice job of trying to balance the varied elements of Penance Lane, succeeding most often in the dramatic portrayals from his lead cast members but also delivering a good deal of tension. Penance Lane has four writing credits, and the film feels like it. That is, rather than a singular or evenly commonly shared vision, it feels more like a “too many cooks” scenario and that things were changed up during the writing process — or perhaps processes — giving the movie a disjointed feel. Munier Sharrieff gets the main credit, with Renae Geerlings and Matt Granger and Mikey Granger getting “additional writer” credits. 

Clichéd characters such as the no-goodnik town sheriff (Daniel Roebuck of 3 From Hell [2019] and more than 80 other horror outings) and his no-account son (Michael Leavy of Terrifier [2016]), tropes such as the lead villain explaining his nefarious plans and what he is about to do to each of the protagonists — the only thing missing is mustache twirling — and a small town that holds dark secrets and where no one can be trusted rule the day. Despite these trappings, Penance Lane does offer enough originality and suspense to warrant a watch.

From Level 33 Entertainment, Penance Lane is now available on VOD.

Review by Joseph Perry

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