Monday, September 3, 2012

Movie Monday #15: P2

I was perusing the shelves of my local Blockbuster Video store (which, sadly, has been closed due to the rise of Redbox and Video on Demand) back in May and spotted the movie on their previously viewed shelf that you're reading about right now--P2, a low-budget horror vehicle featuring a girl trapped in a parking garage with a sadistic security guard on Christmas Eve.

With Halloween two months away, I thought now would be the perfect time to review P2 and let you know that it's one of the few horror movies I actually like.


 “I know you're just trying to humanize me, Angela, so stop it!  Stop it!"
--Wes Bentley as Thomas, P2

In case you couldn't tell by reading this blog, I'm not a big fan of horror movies.  I think it stems from a childhood fear of Chucky, the sadistic doll from the Child's Play films, and the fact that I have no tolerance for pointless gore.  I do, however, find myself watching a few horror films a year and enjoying them on varying levels.  But there is one that stood out to me above all the others as one of the best experiences I ever had watching a horror flick, and that movie is P2.

P2 (named after the parking garage level it takes place in) starts off simple: Angela (played by Rachel Nichols), a corporate workaholic who is staying late at the office on Christmas Eve, finds that her car is the only one left in the parking garage...and that it won't start.  When Thomas, the overly-friendly security guy (played by Wes Bentley), gives her a jump, the car still doesn't work.  He offers to give her a lift, and even invites her to share Christmas dinner with him in his office, but Angela turns him down and calls a cab.

Unfortunately, Mister Security Guy has locked all the doors in the building, so Angela can't get out to the cab in time before it pulls away.  When she storms down to the garage to have a word with the guy, he turns the lights out on her and forces her into his office...where he drugs her, puts her in a white gown, and forces her to have Christmas dinner with him while she's cuffed to a chair.  Angela, however, is no dummy, and soon devises a way to escape Thomas's clutches (by stabbing him with her dinner fork) and call for help.

But alas, there is no help coming.  This is Christmas Eve, remember?  Angela has to fight her way out, using whatever tools are available, including a fire axe, a crowbar, and Thomas's stun gun, to name a few.  Thomas has a few tools on his side as well, such as filling the garage's elevator with water, using all the security cameras to track Angela down, and unleashing a very nasty Rottweiler that he's named Elvis.  And just when it seems Angela's figured out a way to beat Thomas and escape, Thomas figures out a way to stop her, which leads to a game of chicken in rental cars that will make your jaw drop.

You can say all you want about P2 being one of those low-budget, one-location horror films--it makes great use of its location (the parking garage) and the little nooks and crannies that occupy it.  I've never felt very safe in a parking garage, and after watching P2, I think I know why--they're very creepy when they're empty and dark!  This film plays on that perception and heightens it to the umpteenth level, creating the ultimate "what if" scenario.  The idea is ingenious and it hasn't been done before, so hats off to the creative team for their effort in that department.

The casting for the film couldn't have been better.  Rachel Nichols was perfect for Angela, because she could play both sides of the character--the desperate, frightened corporate employee who just wants a way out...and the kick-ass heroine she becomes when she's finally had enough.  She spends most of this film barefoot and in a cleavage-bearing white dress, which is a real challenge for any actress to take on, and Rachel pulls it off with sympathy and credibility. 

Wes Bentley is the perfect villain as Thomas, a guy who could be the creepy security guard in real life, let alone in P2.  He pretends to be gentle and caring to Angela in the beginning, but once she starts to rebel against his wishes, his psycho side starts coming out, and that's when you're in for a real treat.  Wes also gives us a taste of his funny side as he performs a homage to the Elvis Presley hit "Blue Christmas" while Angela is knocking out his security cameras with the fire axe.

Oleg Savytski performed the production design on this film, and I've become an instant fan of his work.  From the darkened corridors of the parking garage to Thomas's cluttered office and the elevator that Angela nearly drowns in, the design team made a one-location movie seem bigger than it was and made it last longer than the usual ninety-minute runtime.  They didn't do it alone, though--costume designer Ruth Secord came up with the fifteen different dresses that Rachel Nichols wore during shooting; director of photography Maxime Alexandre gave everything the necessary spookiness; and the music by Tomandandy (a composing team I'd never heard of before) blended perfectly into the background and made us feel exactly what we needed to feel at the moments we needed to feel it.

There are some glaring mistakes in P2, though.  One of them has to do with the scene where Thomas floods the garage's elevator with water and Angela presses the up button.  The elevator moves up and takes the water with it.  It looks downright silly, and according to IMDB, elevators are designed to drain the water out through the bottom if such an event occurs.  Two of the smaller mistakes involve the fork that Angela stabs Thomas with (it never stays in the same position) and a scene where a crew member's silhouette is visible on the wall of the rental car area.

One of the other issues with P2 is that it has the dreaded "3 Screenwriter Curse," meaning that three separate writers worked on the script.  In Hollywood, one screenwriter can either be good or bad; two screenwriters (or a two-person writing team) is usually a good bet; but three screenwriters is a recipe for disaster.  Jumper is a good example of this, since it had three screenwriters and was one of the worst movies I saw that year.  A more recent example would be the Sam Worthington vehicle Man on a Ledge, which not only had three screenwriters but was also a one-location film (and played out more like a TV movie than anything else).

Do you get what I mean by the 3 Screenwriter Curse?  Good, because I'm here to tell you that P2 rises above the curse and delivers on all fronts.  The script by Franck Khalfoun (who also directed the film), Alexandre Aja (who produced the film), and Gregory Levasseur (who also produced the film) gave us the perfect setup, the perfect amount of dialogue, and the perfect moments of tension to deliver one of my favorite horror films of all time.  I tend to gravitate toward unique, independent productions, and with P2 being an eight million-dollar parking garage film, I knew I had to see it.  I was not disappointed, and you won't be either...though you might become a little leery of being the only car in the parking garage at night.

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