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August Underground's Penance
IMDB Rating: 3.9/10 from 983 votes
Release: 30 March 2007 (USA) /

August Underground's Penance

Genre: Horror
Director: Fred Vogel,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: The third film in the series. This time a couple go on a killing spree in their local area.

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Critic Reviews

The final part in the "August Underground" trilogy has been a long awaited affair. Four years after the over-the-top graphic spectacle of "Mordum", Toe Tog Pictures' "Penance" has finally seen the cold light of day. With much expectation behind Vogel's concluding chapter in this bloody series, there was always the danger of the production being a disappointment for the legion of fans around the world. Thankfully, the finished film is an accomplished offering that is actually better than its predecessors.

Starting with a surprising scene in which things don't go quite as planned for Vogel's character and his equally disturbed girlfriend, again played by Cristie Whiles, the film then takes a temporary break into normality. It must be said, Whiles is always a delight to watch. Introduced in "Mordum" as a psychotic powerhouse with a penchant for vomiting and abusing her female captives, her character in "Penance" is going through a transformation. Physically, Whiles looks different in this film - gone are the confrontational punk looks of the earlier film, replaced by a beautiful girl-next-door appearance. Vogel is instantly recognisable - a huge bear of a man with a kind face that turns psychotically satanic when events start to go bad. Vogel's the mastermind behind the series and his presence in the film is a welcome one. In "Mordum", Vogel had been on the outskirts of most of the action. Here, he's well and truly involved and the film's a return to the style of the original "August Underground".

Watching the two characters enjoy a break is entertaining and the viewer can enjoy the relative peace before the storm. In fact, I actually found myself dreading the moments when their normal behaviour started to change and they started to explore their darker obsessions. Their run-in with a homeless man, realistically played by Toetag fan and competition winner Fuctup, is the first sign during their vacation that these characters won't be at peace for long.

For those seeking gore and violence, this installment won't disappoint but it's not the same intense, fluid-splattered, unrelenting roller-coaster as "Mordum". The set-pieces in "Penance" seem more confidently delivered. There's less emphasis on the extreme and more time spent on character development and atmosphere. If anything, it's a hybrid of the first two films, taking the best elements of both and coming up with an end result that's well paced and satisfying.

What really works in favour of "Penance" is the clean, crisp presentation of the video footage. The absence of any degradation of the video source gives the impression that the viewer is watching the original digital tape, straight out of the camera. As a result, there's been more time spent on the serial killers' set-dressing and the wonderfully grisly and original effects. Gorehounds take note - Jerami Cruise's work on "Penance" is splendid.

As with the earlier films, this is a confrontational horror film. It takes no prisoners, from its startling Christmas intruder scene and numerous scenes of sexual humiliation and rape to the real demise of a rat at the jaws of a hungry 'gator. "Penance" will undoubtedly offend a lot of viewers but despite its characters, the film has a moral centre. "August Underground"'s message is a simple one. Violence is not sexy.

There's a moment in the film when the characters watch a lion being fed raw "meat", some of which you wouldn't expect to find in your local supermarket. It's probably not intentional but the lion seems a metaphor for the killers. They're trapped in a world where they're forced to take scraps to stay alive, caged in an environment where their true natures are constrained largely by society's rules.

When the film reaches its climatic, sudden and ambiguous end, there's a feeling of sadness. Sadness for the tragic waste of life that's been displayed on the screen for some 80-odd minutes? Perhaps. The tale certainly makes you reflect on what you've seen and the bleakness of it all. But there's also sadness that this is very probably the final installment ever of "August Underground", a series that has reinvented the horror genre and taken viewers to a new, disturbing place.

10 out of 10. Love it or hate it, this is an incredible achievement for a zero-budgeted independent film. I'm confident that Toe Tag will become more mainstream in the future. Such a move is essential for monetary reasons alone. However, I'll miss the on-screen chemistry of Vogel and Whiles. They've shown a new face of horror that doesn't wear a hockey mask and which is frighteningly real.

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