The Bogliano Brothers Have Got Your Penumbra

There are new kids on the block in horror movie world.

They are relatively young, savvy and willing to scare the bejesus out of you with methodically paced shockers that use atmosphere and subtle scares, as opposed to the splatterfests of yesteryear or the torture porns of the not-so-distant past.

Consider Ti West’s work like The Innkeepers and House of the Devil; James Watkins, who steered Daniel Radcliffe through the surprise gothic hit The Woman in Black; or Gustavo Hernandez, who wrote and directed the original The Silent House from Uruguay, which received an American remake with Elizabeth Olsen.

Already making an impact on the genre are the Bogliano brothers. Both have collaborated on such well-liked fright fests as 36 Pesos, The Accursed and Cold Sweat. On the near horizon is Here Comes the Devil, which premiered at this year’s recent Toronto Film Festival. But Penumbra, the latest from the Argentinian siblings, really has horror movie mavens talking.

Penumbra is set in Buenos Aires and focuses on Marga (Cristina Brondo), an attractive but gratingly high-strung lawyer from Spain, trying to rent an apartment she owns for the event of a solar eclipse. A realtor with a potential client wants to meet the harried attorney at the rundown flat. While she complains she has another appointment, when she discovers that that the interested party will grossly overpay for the dwelling, she decides to stick around to make the deal.

Bad move. Seems that a cult is gathering, and they have their own plans for the place. And the new landlady may just be getting in their way.

To give away anything else would be to spoil the film. Let’s just say there some genuine surprises, and the brothers Bogliano prove adept at building suspense and keeping audiences on their toes.

MovieFanfare recently conducted an interview with the siblings—Ramiro Garcia Bogliano, 36, and Adrian Garcia Bogliano, 32—who have actually made films in Europe, South America, Central America and are currently working in Mexico. Both co-wrote and co-directed Penumbra and have worked together on their other projects for years.

MovieFanFare: Was it a conscious decision to make this film more leisurely paced than your other films?

Ramiro Garcia Bogliano:  Absolutely. For years, we consciously took the “shock” approach, and one of our goals was to start the films in the strongest way possible and keep the highlights coming every few minutes. In Penumbra, for a change, we tried a different pace. We restrained ourselves and decided to work harder with the actors and pull back a little bit with the camera work and special effects and let the plot unfold slowly. We intended to let the tension grow little by little until it´s too late for the main character, instead of putting her in extreme danger almost from the start like we did in the past.

Adrian Garcia Bogliano: The idea was to make a homage to some films and plays that are not related with the horror genre. We had in mind some works by David Mamet, that take some time to present characters and characters in those works are not that easy to figure out.  You need to see how they act for a while before you start to understand them. There is a certain degree of simplicity in the modern horror films, that leads to have one-dimensional characters that explain themselves too fast. It works sometimes, but this time we wanted to make something different.

MFF: Some of the music has a 1970s vibe. Was it intentional to make the film feel like it was from different times?

RGB: We worked with Martin Jurado, the composer, studying some 70´s scores, Ennio Morricone’s Cat o’ Nine Tails in particular. We worked with various other references: Mancini, Grusin, Copland… The premise was to avoid synthesizers and keep any “electric” instruments out of the arrangements. We didn’t want Penumbra to sound like your standard score of a 21st-century thriller, we were going for an “old school” sound, almost an unplugged score with acoustic drums, wood bass and piano as the main instruments. That kind of “vintage” feel is also evident in the camera work and in the wardrobe and production design. It wasn’t 100% conscious, it was a natural consequence of the kind of ‘70s genre films that we had in mind while working on Penumbra and the look, pace and feel that we wanted to achieve.

MFF: Are you basing the cult depicted in the film on any particular cult you read about in the past?

RGB: We read about different sun-centered cults and we made our own version of everything that we found. The final touch was added by Arnaldo André, the actor who plays the leader. He came to the rehearsal with some ideas and the words that he says are ancient chants from natives from Paraguay, his home country.

AGB: We started working on this film soon after my brother left Cuba, where he lived for three years. In the time he stayed there he was particularly interested in cults and black magic.  He introduced me to that subject, and eventually I got very interested too. Anyway, we didn’t base the cult in the movie on anything too specific; we just pulled ideas from different sources.

MFF: What is your secret to scaring people?

RGB: Our secret lies in working around subjects that we ourselves are scared about, or situations that we find disturbing. In retrospective, every one of our films deals with different fears, like fear of sex, family ties, growing up, fear of physical pain… Marga is the main character in Penumbra and being the extreme control freak that she is, the worst thing that can happen to her is losing control of her life, and that’s the scenario that we put her into.

AGB: I’m not sure that any of my films really scare people. That’s really difficult. I think I’ve seen more than a thousand horror films and I can’t name more than ten that have scared me. I’m not talking about jump with a loud noise; I’m talking about something that scares you for real, that moves something deep inside of you. I try to scare using different ideas and very different approaches in each film. In this case, it’s about being scared of someone that can violate your privacy, about becoming a stranger in your own home, about losing your comfort zone. All those things are fears that most of us can identify with, but at the same time, those are not typically portrayed in horror movies.  We are used to seeing fear of the dark or stuff like that.

MFF: How do the two brothers collaborate both in the writing and directing?

RGB: It’s a very flexible routine. Normally, Adrian comes up with a premise, and we both define an outline that I write down. Then Adrian comes up with the first draft and then I correct it and expand it. On set, Adrian is focused in the camera work and I direct the actors. But sometimes we exchange roles. We normally share a similar vision, and it’s very unusual that we argue over any detail or decision.

AGB: We can understand each other with a look, or saying something like “we should do a Spike Lee for this scene” or “let’s try a Jonathan Demme on this one.”  It’s funny because I don’t remember anyone ever telling us, “Wait, Ramiro just told me the opposite” or anything like that.

MFF: What movies influenced you the most both growing up and as adults?

RGB: Penumbra is heavily influenced by European horror classics such as Deep Red, but a lot of “non-horror” films like Das Boot, Glengarry Glen Ross or He Got Game are equally relevant in the style and tone of the film. Since this is a “Movies Unlimited” interview, I’ll say some films outside the genre that are classics for us: Performance, Tampopo,  Gummo, Sonatine, Mouchette, Sling Blade, La Haine… I could go on for hours.

AGB: Lots of movies. We live and breathe movies. I think we were very lucky because we got to see very mature stuff as kids. And now I look back and I say, “You got to be kidding!  How did anyone let me go to a theatre when I was seven years old to see Videodrome?”  But I never felt like I was watching something disturbing. Most sexual and mature references were, of course, beyond my comprehension, but I believe films like that triggered my imagination in a very positive way. By approaching mature content as kids, and, as kids, understanding just a little part, we felt that movies were a challenge to our imagination. I understand now why Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland was the only film for kids that we loved since we were kids.  It’s a complex film filled with suggestive ideas that feels like a dream, closer to a David Lynch film rather than the typical film for kids that leaves nothing to imagination.

MFF: Would you consider working on a script you didn’t originate?

RGB: We already worked for hire in a film called Donde Duerme El Horror (The Accursed) that was a project that we were approached by a producer, based on classic horror literature. We were able to rewrite the script and we had a great time shooting it. Guillermo del Toro once said that the worst director is the one that doesn’t direct, and we totally agree with that assertion.

AGB: Of course. I started making scripts when I was 13 years old. I was obsessed with structure and studied a lot. I think I carried that obsession to my first film, Rooms for Tourists. After that, I decided to make scripts that gave me a chance to have fun directing them, rather than making something with a completely tight structure. But I enjoy reading a great script and it would be awesome to make someone else’s material. Unfortunately, you don’t get to read exciting and well-written scripts too often.

MFF: Would you like to do an English language film in the United States?

RGB: Adrian has a couple of English language films up his sleeve and another one that hopefully we will shoot together with a great cast –tentative at this point.  We would love that, but we want to keep making genre films in Argentina and Latin America too, there are a lot of stories and subjects here that we find fascinating.

AGB: I want to do it because I admire lots of movies from the U.S., and I love to work with casts and crews from different places. That’s why I’ve made films in Spain, Argentina, Cuba, Costa Rica and now Mexico. I like the challenge of facing new actors and their different ways of approaching this job. That’s the most exciting part of making a movie.