I remember seeing the trailers for P2 and thinking that, sure, it could be good, but being afraid that it might be yet another simple scare premise that Hollywood declawed and dumbed-down. Then I found out that Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur (the French duo behind Haute Tension and the recent Hills Have Eyes remake, both quality flicks in my opinion) were producing and had co-written the script with director Franck Khalfoun, which threw a serious blip into my geek radar. Add to that the fact that it would be rated R and not the multiplex-friendly PG-13, and I figured it would be worth a rental, at least. Turns out I was right.
It's Christmas Eve in NYC, and Angela Bridges (Rachel Nichols) is working late at her downtown office yet again. She's got to get to her sister's party in Jersey and is running late for her social engagements, as usual. Finally done, she heads to the building's parking garage to leave but her car won't start. Looking for assistance, since her cell phone is of course useless in the concrete structure, she comes across Thomas (Wes Bentley), the attendant. He's more than happy to help - he seems rather bored since it's just himself and his Rottweiler, Rocky - but can't get her car started. Tom is a very friendly guy, the kind that talks probably more than he should, but you get the feeling that it's because he's so used to being alone that it's more that he's talking to himself. Awkwardly, he asks Angela if she might like to sit down for a quick Christmas dinner with him; after all, she's got her car troubles and he's brought enough food for them to enjoy a meal together. She politely demurs, decides to go back up to the office lobby to try and call a cab. But there's no one on duty, and the doors to the street are all locked. Back down to the garage she goes, and that's when all the lights go out and the fun begins.
Other than the setup (which, if you've seen any previews for the flick, you pretty much already know), it's best not to go into much detail about P2 to preserve the surprises. It's not that there are plot twists galore or that it's in any way groundbreaking; rather it's simply that as you watch the events unfold, as you see the familiar story beats handled so well by the writers and director, that there's a strong sense of contentment in the heart of any self-respecting horror freak. We all know that Angela is going to be terrified and abused and ultimately find out how willing she is to fight to survive. Tom's seeming amiability will turn out to mask a dangerous obsession with Angela that will slowly reveal itself, as will his insanity. The joy is in watching all this done with skill and style and a real love for the genre, and everybody involved here is more than happy to bring their A-game.
Nichols is fairly stunning; in whatever sense of the word you might wish to choose. She's beautiful, sure (at times she's a dead ringer for a younger, more attractive Bridget Fonda), but she's got the goods. You can see in the early moments dealing with her job that she's ambitious but not heartless. When she's thrust into a nightmare she's confused but not hopeless, sure that she can count on her intelligence to get her out. And as things get progressively worse and worse, Angela finds that inner piece of resolve she needs to fight back and get her hands bloody if need be. Bentley, conversely, really surprised me. Admittedly I haven't seen him in all that much since his breakout turn in American Beauty but he's aces here, and leagues scarier than he was in Ghost Rider (but to be fair, that was a comic-book flick while this, while occasionally reality-stretching, is more of a real-world psychopath). He plays Tom as honestly confused why Angela wouldn't want him to "help her" or go about it the way that he is. Tom tries so hard to be good at the whole social interaction thing, and he's just not. He doesn't want to be alone anymore, and as such, will go to increasingly violent lengths to start a relationship with the woman of his dreams. Bentley is very good at getting the little details right while making it abundantly clear that Tom's off his fucking nut. It doesn't hurt that dude's got the craziest eyes since Meg Foster, either - he puts some intensity into those bad boys and you can just TELL that things are about to go very badly.
The technical aspects are great, as the garage is creepy as hell and just as foreboding as it needs to be without dressing it up like some medieval castle to really go all out; it just looks like a place we've all been in, but reminds you that at night, you probably want to get the hell out. First-time director Khalfoun shows he knows how to compose a shot and fill it up with all the right details, and he thankfully resists going all ADD seizure style with the movie. It's a refreshing throwback to the suspense/slasher flicks of old. The man doesn't skimp on the wet stuff, either. There's not much of it and it's not a bloodbath, but when it comes it's mighty enjoyable, effective and more than welcome.
The DVD has commentary by director Khalfoun as well as his partners in crime Aja and Levasseur, and three featurettes (a making of, a look at the design of the garage and the visual look, and a short piece on Khalfoun as protégé of Aja and Levasseur) that get the job done admirably. Lastly, there's a trailer for the flick, as well as one for the MMA "epic" Never Back Down.
I had a blast with this flick. It reminded me quite a bit of last year's Vacancy, in that it had: actors who know how to play this kind of material with game sincerity, a tightly written script with little-to-no extraneous bullshit, and a director who's got a vision and the talent to deliver. And just like the earlier flick (while being considerably more violent), P2 is a chilling, well-done and above all SCARY movie that gets in, does its job, and gets out. They used to make movies like this all the time; simple yet effective thrillers that were happy to be what they were and didn't have any pretensions about it. Plus, this one's got a small but deliciously perverse streak of black humor (dig those end credits), so pick it up and have some fun.