Penny is seemingly a young girl whose thoughts are worth a great deal more than a copper cent, her dexterous mind imprisoned in a crippled tomb of flesh and bone. Seth Holt directs a deft little thriller whose labyrinthine twists lead through a gothic mansion of murderous intent and end upon the crashing surf.
Holt begins the first act with a dark haired young girl being pulled from a lake, the Alps rising above the scenario like some Olympian requiem. Her dead face remains hidden, a claw like hand groping towards the heavens, her identity revealed as only a shock of black hair sticking out from under a tarp. Holt then jump cuts to a jet plain landing in France and we witness out protagonist, a raven haired beauty confined to a wheelchair. This ambiguity propels the story: are we seeing a flashback that will lead to her demise, the plot now concerned with the facts of the possible crime?
Douglas Slocombe’s striking cinematography creates an eerie disjointed atmosphere and help the mystery enter deep waters, utilizing deep focus to highlight foreground elements while revealing subtle information in the background. Strange candles whose light flickers like demon tongues, triptych compositions that in retrospect contain key objective evidence, and underwater photography whose ghastly elements shock and awe. The soundtrack is embedded with the annoying habit of chirruping crickets and singsong birds, helping the audience to delineate night and day in this colorless film. In one indoor scene, Penny and her Stepmother are having dinner and their contentious conversation ebbs to reveal crickets…inside the house. The acting is first rate with Christopher Lee subverting expectations, and Susan Strasberg perfectly capturing the dichotomy of emotional reactionary and masterful proactivity.
The narrative is awash with red herrings but remember: in water, no one can hear you scream!
Final Grade: (B+)