One of the best parts of Women in Horror Month is checking out the wave of new films from talented female directors that comes around in February. This year, one of the most intriguing film projects I encountered was PENTA a 20 minute horror short from director Andrea Wolanin. Based upon an Italian folk tale, Penta questions femininity, humanity and the system of abuse. Our titular heroine is a robot created to do nothing more than be the perfect woman – but what does that mean? As she acclimates to the world around her, her changes startle her owner and spur a chain of grim events.
Penta has been performing very well on the festival circuit, and I was lucky enough to check out a screener for the film. This month the short has screened at the Philip K. Dick Film Festival in NYC, and the Russian International Horror Awards. It’s also previously been shown at the Ax Wound Film Festival in New Hampshire, and won Best Horror Short Jury & Audience Awards at the Shawna Shea Film Festival, and Runner-Up for Best New England Film at the Boston Underground Film Festival.
First off, this was an extremely interesting premise – highlighting the cycle of domestic violence through a story grounded in horror and science fiction traditions. The lead actress Porcelain Dalya does a great job of capturing the childlike innocence of artificial intelligence, the sinister qualities of a horror villain, and the fear of someone in a very realistic, gritty abusive relationship.
In terms of it’s sci-fi influences, the corporation featured in the film also manages to be extremely creepy. The Jupiter Corporation are behind the design and distribution of the robotic women, and their sinister advertising is cleverly inter-cut with the narrative of the film. It perfectly informs the audience about the nature of the men who buy these products – and makes clear who the real villains of the story are.
What struck me most about Penta was the music. In the opening, the whimsical tunes peak our interest. The film is split into two distinct acts which are quite different in look and tone. But this divide works well because the music blends the segments together effectively. A percussion cover of Gymnopedie No. 1 by Erik Satie successfully guides the audiences’ mood from light and free – to mysterious and ominous.
I very much enjoyed Penta, and felt it added an interesting commentary to the discussion of domestic abuse. It’s intelligent, quirky, and intriguing – definitely worth checking out if you can catch it on the festival circuit!