As the title suggests, Penitent is a morose story without a happy ending. Exploring the depths of guilt, misery, and self-hatred, Director Bryan Stynes’ feature film debut shows a rather dark side of the human experience.
Set in Ireland, Penitent tells the story of a man named Jason (Michael Linehan) who has to live with the consequences of driving under the influence and killing a child. He is haunted by the memory of the traumatic incident and the guilt that consumes his every thought.
After being released from jail he attempts to establish a sense of normalcy but ultimately the PTSD gets the best of him. With subplots involving drugs and unwelcomed visits, Penitent is a complex film that is further convoluted by a non-linear telling of the story.
Penitent drops its audience right into the narrative putting in very little effort to clearly explain Jason’s situation. The audience is left to put the puzzle together, which works in some cases, but not in this one. Title cards are sprinkled throughout the film to give context to many scenes, which feels like a crutch for an underdeveloped script. Despite having poor lighting and camera quality, which are typical weaknesses in low-budget films, the film’s most irredeemable flaw is its lack of story development. In fact, if it weren’t for this glaring issue, the film would be phenomenal.
With great performances across the board, Penitent really shines with its choice of actors. Linehan gives an extremely earnest performance that is complemented by a number of supporting roles. Although the plot is confusing, the emotions that these characters feel are very clear. The fact that the audience can feel drawn in by the gripping emotions of the characters while trying to understand the plot is a remarkable achievement on its own. Linehan’s performance is a poignant examination of the human condition.
With serious flaws in some areas and significant successes in others, its difficult to label Penitent as good or bad. Nonetheless, it is a nuanced work of art that shows promising potential for Stynes’ future work.