In 2005, American audiences were introduced to a new purveyor of fine horror product, Alexandre Aja, whose film Haute Tension (High Tension in the US) was unleashed on the unsuspecting masses. It was a great exercise in old school slasher, until the unfortunate ending. This led directly to his English language debut, a successful new take on The Hills Have Eyes.
His skills have arrived once again on the big screen, although only as a writer. He is championing a new visionary to the screen in Franck Khalfoun, who makes his directorial debut with P2. He also got to work with Aja and Gregory Levasseur on the script. His last work came as an actor in Haute Tension.
How well does P2 succeed? Quite well; it exceeded my expectations in its ability to create genuine tension and deliver the thrills in an organic manner without having to rely too heavily on genre cliches. Yes, the cliches are there, but their resolution is borne out in a more believable manner than would be expected.
Rachel Nichols is Angela. She works for a law firm (I gather) and is in the office late on Christmas Eve. Everyone else in the building, save for a security guard, has gone home. Angela finishes up her work and heads down to the P2 parking level to head to her sister's for a family gathering. Of course, nothing goes as planned.
As she gets to her car, she finds it doesn't start. This brings her into contact with the lonely parking attendant, Thomas (Wes Bentley). Now is when the tension truly begins to rise. You see, the loneliness of being the lone parking attendant in the dark, wet, grimy parking garage can do things to one's brain. Thomas has gone a little nutter spending the long lonely nights in the garage, patrolling the emptiness. Give someone a little power and a lot of alone time and they begin to thirst for companionship at any cost and have a heightened sense of right and wrong, potentially fostering thoughts of vigilantism. Angela's car troubles and a recent incident at a company Christmas party are all that is needed to spark Thomas to take his dreams and ideals to the next level.
The premise of P2 is a simple one, simple enough to drive the cynical horror fan running for the exit. However, that would be a mistake. Despite the simple setup, the execution is first rate. This is due to the script, the performances, and the taut direction. No, there is nothing particularly revolutionary about the film and it is not likely to end up on any "best of" lists, but it should not be ignored. I went in with low expectations, and was rewarded with something that vastly exceeded them.
The script is a good one that sets up the cliches but doesn't fall prey to them. The dialogue is realistic and very believable. It sets up the woman-in-danger scenario that we have seen time and time again over the years, yet creates interesting ways of allowing her to get out of said cliches without becoming a cliche itself. The script also gives us some clever banter between the stalker and the stalked, as well as interactions with other characters (like the cops that show up) that do not feel like your typical movie characters.
For as good as the script is, it is the performances that really sell the drama, credit to both Rachel Nichols and Wes Bentley. Let's begin with Rachel Nichols. She does a wonderful job of being the imperiled woman, balancing the freaking out with the ability to do what needs to be done given the situation. Well, that and having the year's best cleavage, seriously Oscar worthy material right there. Fortunately, though, she is more than just a pretty face; she makes the character worth becoming invested in. Now for Wes Bentley. Here is an actor I am surprised isn't a bigger name than he is. I remember him in American Beauty and Ghost Rider, but that's about it. His portrayal of Thomas is completely creepy, and absolutely terrifying. He brings such earnestness to it, his desire to have Angela as a friend is very unsettling. The further in we go, the further down the rabbit hole he goes. Without these two there is no way it is as successful as it is.
Franck Khalfoun has made a strong debut. I guess it doesn't hurt to have Alexandre Aja backing you. The pace is kept moving, rarely does a moment drag on. With a running time in the neighborhood of 90 minutes, no time is wasted getting the plot moving and building the two primaries. Khalfoun shows a deft hand at making this claustrophobic location feel claustrophobic as well as expansive, with plenty of room for the two to play out their game of cat and mouse. It will be interesting to see what he has up his sleeve next.
Is P2 perfect? No, not by a long shot. There are some plot hole issues and a bunch of cheap jump scares, but overall this is a highly effective thriller. You could sit there and pick it apart, but I was caught up in the characters to the point that I could overlook the issues. Sometimes I have to wonder if horror fans have become so cynical that they are unable to get wrapped up in the plight of the characters, always eager to find the plot hole or cheesy line. These thoughts are based on the audience reactions at some horror films this year, snickering when the scenes playing are truly suspenseful. Oh well, I guess this is the age we live in.
Bottom line. I like this movie. Nichols and Bentley were excellent, the chills were there, and I was drawn into what was going on. P2 exceeded my expectations and stands as one of the better horror/thrillers of the year. Definitely make the time to give this little film a shot.