Routine but skillful, "P2" is a minimalist horror-thriller that takes a bare-bones premise and uses it to string up a series of escalatingly tense situations. Like 2005's airplane-set "Red Eye
," first-time writer-director Franck Khalfoun places a protagonist and an antagonist in a claustrophobic setting and then allows their twisted relationship to go where it may as one fights for survival against the psychopathic other. Subplots are blessedly absent from the proceedings as the viewer is drawn into a jittery cat-and-mouse game for almost ninety solid minutes.
It's Christmas Eve, and young NYC businesswoman Angela Bridges (Rachel Nichols) is running late for a family get-together in New Jersey. Once inside the building's isolated parking garage, she is dismayed to learn that her car won't start. When security guard Thomas' (Wes Bentley) attempts to jump-start her battery fail, Angela decides to bite the bullet and take a cab home. There's only one problem: all of the exits are locked or closed off, and no one is around to help her. Long before the night is out, Angela will be fighting for her life against Thomas, a lonely lunatic who will do whatever it takesincluding murderto spend the holiday with her.
Produced and co-written by Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur, the team behind 2005's "High Tension
" and 2006's "The Hills Have Eyes
" remake, "P2" mixes old-fashioned Hitchcockian suspense with a more modern mean streak of blood and guts. That the mayhem takes place on Christmasa largely joyous holidayand is scored much of the time by a number of seasonal songs, including Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" and Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas," appropriately shades the picture with an additional creepy undercurrent. Meanwhile, the dark and dank parking garage becomes a third major character in itself as director Franck Khalfoun runs with using its empty corridors and elevators for all they're worth.
Rachel Nichols (2005's "The Amityville Horror
") is a revelation as Angela, a workaholic gal who doesn't quite put into perspective what her loved ones mean to her until she is placed in a position where she knows she may never get to see them again. Nichols is wholly convincing in the physically and emotionally trying role, crying and running and pleading and ultimately coming into her own as a resourceful heroine whose strength is her greatest attribute. As the mentally ill and particularly dangerous Thomas, Wes Bentley (2007's "Ghost Rider
") struggles to keep pace with Nichols' standout turn. His character is certainly spiteful, but too often Bentley goes way over the top, seemingly channeling Jack Nicholson in "The Shining
" but not doing as good of a job. It might have been more effective to keep Thomas in the shadows for the first half, leaving Angela and the viewer wondering who it is that is stalking her.
From a point-by-point perspective, "P2" is a bit overly familiar and by-the-numbers. Its predictability, however, makes room for director Frank Khalfoun to occasionally toy with his audience, leaving them off-balance and unsure of what is coming around every corner. A scene that finds Angela closing herself in an elevator and calling for help over the emergency speaker is especially clever in the scary payoff it provides. Watching "P2," it is clear that the territory being covered has been explored time and again in other similar films. The inspired showmanship of the project is where the film gratifyingly elevates above the genre norm.