Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Rachel Nichols, Wes Bentley, Simon Reynolds
Written by: Franck Khalfoun, Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur
Directed by: Franck Khalfoun
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence/gore, terror and language
Running Time: 98
Date: 11/09/2007
IMDB

P2 (2007)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Parking Fraught

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Despite its clumsy flaws, the new thriller P2, which takes place entirely in a parking garage on Christmas Eve, has one or two worthwhile ideas. Newcomer director Franck Khalfoun, along with his more experienced co-writer and producer Alexandre Aja (director of High Tension and the remake of The Hills Have Eyes), makes wonderful use of the big New York City high rise with all its sinister safety precautions that eventually turn against our heroine.

Angela (Rachel Nichols) is forced to work late into Christmas Eve, finishing up an important document. Late for a Christmas party at her sister's house, she heads down into the parking garage only to find that her car won't start. A friendly night watchman, Thomas (Wes Bentley), tries to help, but to no avail. She calls a cab, but finds that she can't actually exit the lobby of the building. The locks that are designed to keep people out over the holiday are actually keeping poor Angela inside. But the movie's real catch is that Thomas is not so helpful after all. He's a lovelorn stalker who has been watching Angela on his surveillance monitors and has decided that she's the one for him.

On a technical level, Khalfoun does wonderful things with the four levels of the parking garage, the locked doors, the cold, the lights and the pools of darkness. (It goes without saying that there's no cell phone reception down here.) But at the same time, Khalfoun too often relies on lazy jump-shock techniques. Thomas' dog suddenly leaps out from the shadows more than once, and Angela's first escape attempt is thwarted not so much by her own incompetence as by bad editing. By the time Khalfoun finishes lurching around the room with his camera, her significant lead time has diminished.

Of course, we've seen this type of sadistic "love" story before, going all the way back to William Wyler's The Collector (1965), and all the way up to this year's Captivity. It feels cruel to direct all this violence towards women, but it's helpful to remember that this genre works both ways; sometimes women kidnap men (Misery, Hard Candy) and other times entire families are kidnapped and tormented (Cape Fear, Funny Games). P2 adds one or two new wrinkles to this old scenario, but also falls back too often on the old ones. For one thing, Bentley, with his unruly swatches of black eyebrows, plays Thomas like an ordinary guy rather than a purely evil, demented psychopath. This is doubly refreshing considering that he played it the wrong way earlier this year in Ghost Rider; if the character sneers and leers and cackles and never shows a shred of humanity, there's nothing interesting about the duality of the story. Nichols on the other hand first caught my attention in the otherwise horrid remake of The Amityville Horror as an inappropriate babysitter, cynical and imperturbable. I wish I could have seen a bit more of that power here.

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