P2 / Phillip Stephens
Film Reviews | November 9, 2007 | Comments ()
This new French cabal of horror-maestro-wannabes led by Alexandre Aja appears to be high on ambition and low on real ability. Ever since 2002 or so, writer Grégory Levasseur and editor Franck Khalfoun, both of whom served with Aja on the over-touted (and rather silly) High Tension, have been trying to make a name for themselves in horror’s hallowed halls. Aja shows promise (with regards to horror norms), and all certainly know their influences, but the whole troupe has a lot to learn before they can really start being able to emulate their Italian and American forefathers with any consequence.
The stupidly titled P2, directed by Khalfoun, is a wholly unsuccessful thriller whose only piquing quality is its probable attempt at giallo horror homage. The film hones in on two characters and one location, providing the tight corners, thrills, and a pair of moments of sheer lurid nasty that would make Mario and Dario break into wide-toothed grins. The blood and boobs (and canines…and eye-violence!) are certainly there; what’s lacking is any kind of exposition and a workable villain. The plot of P2 just isn’t up to even bad giallo standards — the two leads can’t stir the interest necessary to thrill and the parking garage setting, an admirable attempt at American familiarity and claustrophobia, hasn’t the Grand Guignol to augment the suspense and mask the lack of real action.
I suppose anyone who’s walked through the concrete desolation of an empty, shoddily lit parking deck can empathize with our chief heroine’s (Rachel Nichols, whose resemblance to Bridget Fonda is alarming) plight, isolated and unnerved in this gray labyrinth with its leering cameras and fragmenting echoes. But are we to be similarly provoked when it’s revealed that the cat to Nichols’ mouse (Wes Bentley) has likewise been effected, been driven mad by the hellish seclusion of this Alighierian parking garage? Methinks not. Bentley, a promising young actor whose career has taken a turn for the thbbbbbt these years past, can’t approximate the psychopath Aja, Levasseur, and Khalfoun have written him to be; in all likelihood, no one could, because this crazy security guard feels more like a half-assed stalker, the kind that leaves you alone after one raised-voice confrontation, or a whiny ex-boyfriend than anything genuinely scary. Nor does he have the screen presence to really put the goose in our pimples; sure, he yells a few times and narrows those caterpillar-thick eyebrows, but honestly — if this guy didn’t have his pet Rottweiler or his handcuffs, would there be anything to stop Rachel Nichols from beating his ass like we know she eventually will? Methinks not.
So, unhinged security bum traps and kidnaps the overworked, perennially put-upon, and — worst of all — single! businesswoman, revealing himself to be her longtime admirer. He concocts a fantasy even a real lunatic wouldn’t find creative — serving an ersatz Christmas dinner of microwaved noodles to Nichols in his pathetically be-Christmas’d office. Helpfully, he’s disrobed her too; turns out that once that dowdy jacket and button-down shirt have been removed, once that hair’s been released from that oppressive bun, this office thrall is downright foxy. Nichols will spend about 80 percent of the movie in her slip, her glorious bosom palpitating for the camera and providing a starker relief when the inevitable blood speckles her pallor.
And then a whole lot of fuckall happens for over an hour; our heroine escapes and attempts to out-maneuver Bentley’s mewling villain, finally mustering the gall to turn the tables on her attacker and serve the entirely gratuitous emasculation he has coming. It’s all predictable and lacking in suspense. Even one or two episodes of stomach-wobbling gore can’t make up for all this misfiring apprehension; P2 is only mildly unsettling and wholly uninteresting.
I’m sympathetic to the Aja/Levasseur/Khalfoun clique, I really am; their attempts to make a name for themselves in modern horror’s parade of one-note slashers and torture-porn is a step in the right direction, and anyone who tries to pay homage to Argento (they even have a signature musical group: “tomandandy” to evince Goblin!) is cool in my book. But an impressive resume is not enough, boys — the non-visual elements need your attention, too.
Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.