So what's the message in Penance then? A guy brutally murders people because he hates himself? Well f**k me what a revelation! This bombshell aside, there appears, not surprisingly to be no valid reason whatsoever for this incredibly crapulent and nauseous creation. If it's purely infamy Vogel's looking for he's gone about it the right way, but hey Vogel, why not surprise people and at least try to make something remotely intelligent, then you can throw in as much filth and degradation as you like and still get taken seriously? The thing is, Vogel doesn't have the minerals to create anything of any quality or depth, and Penance is a hollow exercise in pushing the boundaries of what is watchable. It's utterly devoid of any subtext whatsoever.
Ironically the only thought provoking element in this film is Fred Vogel himself, who co-writes, directs, produces?, and stars. In much the same way as Argento used to perform the stabbings himself in many of his films, Vogel has a vested personal interest in the violence displayed here. Writing, directing and playing the central character seems to be giving Vogel the closest experience possible to fulfilling his ultimate fantasy without actually having to get arrested, although one could argue that even the inclusion of such a young girl in the filming of this offal is worthy of a stern ticking off. Has she seen it yet? I wonder. Charming.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm a lover of extreme violence in cinema when it is in context. Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer, Man Bites Dog, Peeping Tom - these are all violent films - Henry especially, but they also deal with serious themes such as alienation, voyeurism, the boundaries between audience and spectator, and in particular, audience complicity. Vogel's film, on the other hand is designed purely to shock and/or titillate. The only comforting thought one should be drawing from this experience is that you're not turned on by imagining yourself sexually and violently abducting people. If you are, then perhaps you should be applying for a job at Toetag films.
In Penance, Vogel seems, more than anything to be exploring his own psyche - his own capacity for the kind of behaviour he's mimicking, and it really does look like he's ready to take the plunge.
Beware Vogel - when you're staring into the abyss, the abyss is staring back at you!
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