Amelia is a single mother trying to do right in these hard times. Amelia has a problem though when she learns about her daughter’s medical problems, and the money that it will eventually cost. Amelia decides to make an audition tape to get onto a television show in hopes of raising the money for her debt and future hospital costs. Her desperation for money leads her on a different path than she would have ever expected, and another world is about to open up right before her eyes.
Penance begins with some on-screen history. The footage you’re watching was recovered from an asylum along with fourteen bodies. Well, there’s a red flag. Wasting no time to set up another POV horror film, Penance rushes through a cursory character back story in record time. Amelia (Marieh Delfino) is courting a reality television show, an excuse to feature a character that never drops their handheld video camera. It also serves to showcase her child’s illness and the $25,000 Amelia stands to win if she can go all the way on the reality show. Terrible set-up in my opinion, and it feels cheap and trite for a reason.
Enter Amelia’s stripper friend, Suzie, who shows her the alluring money to be made if she’s willing to show a little tail. The film rushes through Amelia’s awkward stripper-in-training montage and gets right to it. Amelia throws some whore makeup on and debuts with Suzie at a local frat party. The night ends with a huge stack of bills in her hand, but she’s still resistant to the idea of stripping. When the cash becomes too great to pass up, she dons the stripper outfit again. This is where Penance gets ugly and I would recommend the easily disturbed to pass this up.
Filling in for Suzie at a private party, Amelia’s life takes a dark and sudden turn. Drugged by a religious zealot determined to purify strippers and the like, Amelia is beaten, whipped, degraded, and eventually endures genital mutilation. You’d think the film would be happy with one act of genital mutilation, but no. Graham McTavish portrays a former surgeon who’s obsessed with purifying the women so they’ll be able to inhabit Heaven. If that sounds less than plausible, you’re probably right, but this is horror after all. Writer/director, Jake Kennedy, might have started with a good idea, but this film quickly becomes a hokey version of Saw, focuses solely on the shock value, and leaving the story behind.
These films are a dime a dozen, but I will give credit where credit is due. The scenes involving Amelia’s genital mutilation made me squirm in my seat. The gritty exploitation could have served a greater purpose with a more balanced film, but this is ultimately a forgettable horror entry.