December 22, 2011

Eyes on Christmas: P2

As the Christmas marathon run is starting to wind down I decided to go with a thriller of recent vintage, it is thriller produced by horror director Alexandre Aja and directed by Franck Khalfoun and is a rather delightful little romp through a parking garage. I am not sure you could go so far as to call it a great film, but it certainly is effective and has plenty of Christmassy overtones to fit right in with the season.

Rachel Nichols is Angela, she works for a law firm 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. As she gets to her car, she finds it doesn't start. This brings her to the lonely parking attendant, Thomas (Wes Bentley).

This 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 desires 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 really quite good. 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.

The script is a good one that sets up the cliches but doesn't fall trap to them. The dialogue is realistic and 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 itself, a cliche. 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 years best cleavage. 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. No time is wasted in getting the plot moving and building the two leads. Khalfoun shows a deft hand at making this location feel claustrophobic as well as expansive, with plenty of room for the two to play out their game of cat and mouse.

Is P2 perfect? No, there are some plot holes and a few cheap jump scares, but overall this is a highly effective thriller. You could sit and pick it apart, but I was caught up in the characters to the point that I could overlook the issues.

The bottom line is 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. How well does it succeed? Quite well, it excelled in its ability to create genuine tension and deliver thrills in an organic manner without having to rely to heavily on genre cliches. Yes, the cliches are there, but their resolution is borne out in a more believable manner than would be expected. Give it a shot, you might be surprised.


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