Tenebra (PANIC) is a Weird and Wild Italian Slasher That Nearly Sticks the Landing
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Writer: Giovanni Cardillo, Toni Ersino, Guiliano Fiocco
Runtime: 80 Minutes
Starring: Tonia De Micco, Elisa del Genio, Mirko Frezza, Stefan Natic
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Panic Film Festival in 2023.
Marta (Elisa del Genio) is making plans to die by suicide this weekend with a man she met over the internet when she discovers that her little brother Chicco (Stefan Natic) stole her poisoned whiskey bottle earlier that morning. As she is racing against time to find him, Chicco wanders into an abandoned home where he finds Guilia (Tonia De Micco) and her daughter Chiara (Ornella Brescia) locked in the trunk of a car.
Modern giallo throwback Tenebra captures some of the crazy energy of the era while fumbling its basic story.
A twisted setup serves all the right ingredients to make Tenebra a success. From Marta’s desire to die by suicide, Chicco’s unintentional stumbling into a murder den to rid himself of a bully, and Giulia and Chiara’s situation in the car trunk, there is plenty going on in Tenebra to keep the audience on their toes. The first act plays on these aspects nicely, providing plenty of tension building devices before any carnage has the chance to happen. More elements pile on as ticking time bombs: the amount of air left in the trunk after the plugs are nailed shut, the ferocity of the trained attack dog, a bottle of whiskey poisoned with a suicide pill.
Despite its tense middle, Tenebra loses steam in its final act thanks to an unnecessary twist that knocks the wind from its sails. After dispatching the terrifying man who had kidnapped Giulia and Chiara, Marta and Chicco discover that Giulia is the person they should fear most. Taking on the sweet, innocent voice of a child, Giulia has been tricking the siblings into releasing her from the car trunk. Once this comes to light, the tension in the film dissipates, as there is no mystery left to unfurl. This revelation feels a bit disingenuous given the amount of time spent in the trunk with Giulia but it does tie into the overall message of the film, so it isn’t too hard to justify it.
Surprisingly, Tenebra seems committed to exploring the roots of trauma and the diverging paths it offers survivors. After an adverse childhood consisting of physical and sexual abuse, Giulia has emerged scarred from the experiences, understandably so. Marta, and to a lesser extent Chicco, have also experienced trauma in a different way. After losing their mother and living with their neglectful father, the two have done what they could to carry on. Once Marta is faced with certain death, alongside her little brother, her old desires fade and her primary focus becomes getting out alive. Neither story is delved into too deeply to offer anything new, but it does make for a compelling backstory for its leads.
Uneven performances across the cast make it difficult to believe the wackiness of its developing story. Each of the performers give their all, but the varying tones between the actors make it hard to believe they are in the same project. As the lead, Elisa del Genio has the luxury of setting the tone and pace of the film, and she largely gets it. The problem is her co-stars taking it too far on either pendulum. The child actors give one note performances that barely register the danger they are in, which is understandable given their age even if it is disappointing. Tonia De Micco, however, goes in the opposite direction, making her character unbelievably hokey in the end.
Aesthetically, Tenebra wavers between greatness and mediocrity mostly thanks to its underwhelming lighting and color choices. Tenebra is a very dark and dull movie. Despite its setting, an abandoned manor house in an isolated location, it doesn’t do much with the location. Most of the rooms feature a boring assortment of boxes and covered items that make it feel impersonal rather than scary. It adds to the incredulity when it is revealed how long the abductor had been living there and with whom. In the end, Tenebra is missing the wild and audacious set pieces of giallos that Italy is famous for, leaving it to be a rather humdrum slasher affair stylistically in a sea of new releases.
Its offbeat premise and tense action sequences make Tenebra an easy recommend for the casual genre fan. Wonky in its brand of madness and convoluted in its story, Tenebra manages to eke past its detractors with its charm and willingness to throw everything at the audience. If you enjoy shlocky horror with plenty of throwbacks to 70s Italian filmmaking, Tenebra is a fine way to spend 80 minutes.
Overall Score? 6/10