P2 (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

P2 is a serviceable gore-minded thriller - a competent execution of a premise that ultimately becomes hampered by its inherent constraints. For about the first two thirds of the roughly 90 minute running time, this is a solidly made motion picture, combining white-knuckle tension with black humor and arguably the most impressive cleavage to grace the screen this year. However, as the movie accelerates toward its inevitable conclusion, things become increasingly silly and over-the-top. The creepy atmosphere evaporates. P2 doesn't crash and burn, but its finale is more generic than what the effective first hour leads us to hope for.

This is the feature debut of director Franck Khalfoun, who brings a dark European sensibility to the motion picture. Shot in a Toronto parking garage, the movie benefits from the sense of verisimilitude while at the same time seeming grungier and less hospitable than any such structure I have ever patronized. The initial screenplay was written by the partnership of Gregory Levasseur and Alexandre Aja, the duo responsible for the cult hit thriller, Haute Tension. Based on tone and pacing, one might expect similar audiences to be drawn to P2. However, since this film is in English whereas Haute Tension was in French, the appeal should be broader based.

The premise is simple. One Christmas Eve, Angela (Rachel Nichols) is working late. When she finally leaves the office, long after the building has pretty much shut down, she discovers that her car won't start. The helpful parking attendant, Thomas (Wes Bentley), offers a hand. Anyone with a sense of intuition will know he's up to no good before it's explicitly revealed about 20 minutes into the proceedings. Angela senses there's something creepy about him but humors him. Eventually, however, it becomes clear that his intentions are not pure. He attacks her and uses chloroform to subdue her. When she awakens, it's like something out of Black Snake Moan - she's half-naked and chained to a table. Except the person watching over her has less benign motives than Samuel L. Jackson.

P2 is divided into three acts. The first is setup. The second relies primarily on psychological terror and includes a particularly grisly killing. (Surprisingly, a scene in which Angela peels off a torn fingernail provoked more gasps than this bloodier event.) The third act is an extended chase throughout the different levels of the parking garage. In addition to Thomas and Angela, there's a Rottweiler thrown in for good measure. P2 also includes a particularly inventive sequence that may be the first time anyone has ever gone for a swim in an elevator.

After a healthy run as a television actress, this is actress Rachel Nichols' first starring movie role. Her performance is admirable, although one wonders whether she was cast more for her physical assets than her acting ability. There's no question that we are intended to notice her impressive cleavage. While I can't say whether a corset was necessary to achieve the effect, it is striking and the camera spends a lot of time capturing it. (By the way, it never goes beyond cleavage. Although Angela's dress has a plunging neckline and becomes clingy when wet, it never comes off.) Wes Bentley, probably best known as the voyeur in American Beauty, gets to play another off-kilter individual here. For most of the movie, Bentley's performance is nicely modulated, although he goes off the deep end as the story labors toward its conclusion. A few others have bit parts, but this is basically a two actor show.

P2 might have benefited from some plot tightening. There's a sense that all the running around in the final 40 minutes could have been trimmed down. It's difficult to maintain tension for such an extended period of time, and there are stretches when the suspense flags. (Of course, it might have been difficult to sell the movie if the running length was a skinny 75 minutes.) The camerawork is effective, enhancing the sense of claustrophobia generated by the setting. The score, by tomandandy, complements the visuals but, perhaps surprisingly, it's the Christmas carols that give the movie's soundtrack an edge. Overall, while P2 has its ups and downs, it provides some chills and viscera - just what anyone wants from a Christmas movie.

P2 (United States, 2007)

Director: Franck Khalfoun
Cast: Rachel Nichols, Wes Bentley
Screenplay: Gregory Levasseur & Alexandre Aja and Franck Khalfoun
Cinematography: Maxime Alexandre
Music: tomandandy
U.S. Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 2007-11-09
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1