P2
Director
Cast
, ,
Rated
R
Runtime
98 min.
Release Date
11/09/2007
P2

Remember Wes Bentley’s character from American Beauty, the creepy teen loner who stares at dead birds and sheds tears at trash blowing in the wind? Remember when his character would look intently at his girlfriend, or perhaps at nothing at all, and we just knew that someday he would kill someone? Well, that day has come. Wes Bentley may not be reprising his American Beauty role for P2, but the actor brings his intense, murderous eyes to Tom, the movie’s weirdo parking garage guard who kidnaps a woman on Christmas Eve.

We’ve seen this movie before, where a woman is trapped by an infatuated sicko who tries to force himself upon her. She fights back, sometimes kills him, and then all is well. Similar examples usually star Jodie Foster (Panic Room, Flightplan), but extend to crud like Wind Chill as well. Here, the movie benefits from a surprising amount of logic, with the screenplay considering, thus preemptively shutting down, all possible getaways for its heroine. All of her building’s exits are locked, needing a passkey for access. The elevator requires a key for floors other than the parking area. Cell phones don’t work in parking garages. And the cold, concrete blackness of the film’s underground garage is eerie enough without the addition of Wes Bentley’s freaky eyes.

Rachel Nichols plays Angela, the one executive remaining in an office somewhere in New York. She has last minute figures to calculate, a fax or two to send, and then it’s off to her sister’s annual family Christmas party. Delays begin when her car won’t start, and the cab she calls drives off because the building’s front door locks her in. Her only help is Tom, the kindly garage attendant who tries to jump start her car, when clearly there’s something more wrong with it than the battery. It’s probably the same glitch that causes the building’s lone security guard to disappear, or the parking garage lights to suddenly go out. That glitch is named Tom, and he has a chloroform-soaked rag with Angela’s name on it.

When Angela wakes, her ankle is chained to the leg of a table, she’s woozy, and before her is a set table, complete with wine, silverware, and a microwave-ready turkey dinner. Tom, now donning a Santa getup, orchestrated Angela’s series of inconveniences for this—a romantic dinner with a psycho in the garage attendant’s office.

So what is Tom planning? Will P2 become another piece of gritty torture porn, filled with grueling, episodic, bloody procedures à la Captivity or Hostel? Will he try to make her fall in love with him? Will the two actually fall in love, surprising us all in a romantic narrative twist? The movie takes a simple concept, a general fear of parking garages, and with that keeps a rather straightforward horror yarn, indicative of reinvented sleepover fright tales like When a Stranger Calls. It’s enough that we know Tom is bad and Angela is good. Nevermind what Tom’s problem is, why he’s suddenly snapped, or how he planned this elaborate setup. For the moment, we concern ourselves with Angela’s struggle to survive.

Tom has watched Angela through the building’s surveillance, seeing her drive in and out every day on the camera system, slowly falling in love with her. Recently, at her company’s Christmas party (calling it a “Christmas party” is actually the film’s most unrealistic detail, since any business nowadays, afraid of a lawsuit, would call it a “Holiday” party), Angela averted the rather forceful advances of a drunk coworker, Bob (Simon Reynolds), who in the beginning of the film apologizes to her for his behavior. She accepts the apology, but Tom doesn’t. The kidnapper takes the handcuffed Angela down to the lower level of the garage, where her drunken admirer is duct-taped to an office chair. Tom intends to beat the man to death with his flashlight (he’s just a security guard, so there’s no gun) for making unwanted solicitations. Tom explains that he wants to protect her from people like Bob just before he beats the man to death. Tom ends his savage pounding with his own customary catchphrase: “Way to ruin Christmas, Bob.” As if Tom hasn’t accomplished that himself…

While it’s refreshing to see a horror movie rely on such a simple premise, P2 might have been better if its actors had talent and the script retained the first half-hour’s worth of inventiveness. Bentley looks the part, sure, but that’s just how he looks; he’s a scary-looking guy. Nichols doesn’t do much more than cry and scream, which isn’t acting as much as it is exploding into a frenzied ball of panic. And though the script offers a jump here, a few genuinely shocking moments there, it runs out of things to do in its limited space. After all, the setting is basically a blank concrete slab, its emptiness reminding us why Tom went crazy in the first place.

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