P2 (Summit Entertainment, R)

p22.jpgThus begins a suspenseful game of cat and mouse, with Angela facing seriously limited options (her cell phone cuts out, the garage is completely locked up, she’s stuck in a flimsy dress with freezing temperatures outside), and Thomas harboring grudges about many things, although he tells Angela that he really likes her and "would never hurt her." Sure, pal, we believe you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’ll never cease to amaze me how many different scenarios horror film directors can come up with to put their protagonists in jeopardy. Where will they be trapped, who or what will be pursuing/tormenting/torturing them, and what will be their odds of survival? Horror fans love this stuff, and the success of a particular film depends on how well the filmmaker involves you in his setup. For P2, director Franck Khalfoun (in his first time behind the camera) starts out with a standard woman-in-jeopardy scenario: a workaholic Manhattan office exec named Angela Bridges (Rachel Nichols) gets trapped in the parking garage of her building when she stays after hours on Christmas Eve to finish a project (why it had to be a holiday, I don’t know, but never mind). Angela’s car won’t start, and she’s due at a family gathering-major bummer. The garage security guy, Thomas (Wes Bentley, best remembered as the obsessive video cammer from American Beauty), tries to give Angela’s car a jump, but that fails, so she calls a cab.

Unfortunately, Thomas has secretly been planning a private little rendezvous with his attractive quarry, and after she’s suddenly jumped in the dark garage by an unknown figure, she awakens to find herself in Thomas’ office clad in a low-cut white evening dress and chained to a small table, where dinner and wine await. Yep, seems ol’ Thomas just wants to enjoy a little holiday cheer with his gal pal and his ferocious guard dog, so if Angela will just go along with it, everything’ll be cool! Our heroine, however, ain’t the loony-lovin’ type…and being classy enough to forgive a male co-worker for getting handsy with her after the office Christmas party (a scene that has memorable repercussions later on) doesn’t mean she’s flexible enough to party with Mental Boy. Thus begins a suspenseful game of cat and mouse, with Angela facing seriously limited options (her cell phone cuts out, the garage is completely locked up, she’s stuck in a flimsy dress with freezing temperatures outside), and Thomas harboring grudges about many things, although he tells Angela that he really likes her and "would never hurt her." Sure, pal, we believe you.

You have to give Khalfoun and co-writer Alexandre Aja (the guy who directed the ultra-violent High Tension and 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes remake) credit for taking a setting with seemingly limited cinematic possibilities and making the most of it. Every corner of the maze-like garage is utilized, along with the scattered cars inside, the elevator of the building and several offices that play a role in some manner. But this is primarily a two-actor movie, and let’s give major kudos to Ms. Nichols for her fiery performance. Nichols is riveting from start to finish-the incredulity on her face as she begins to realize Thomas is a major wacko while he’s attempting to serve her dinner clearly marks her as a committed actress. The increasing desperation she must portray while scheming to outwit her captor keeps you interested, and although Nichols is gorgeous, Khalfoun doesn’t opt for cheap exploitation, unless you count making her wear that slinky dress.

As for Bentley, he has a face made for keeping you off guard (or is that on guard?), and although he seems mild-mannered, his eventual fits of emotional fury are more than a little convincing. There are some real jolts in this film, and unexpected violence of a kind that is staged well, for whatever that’s worth. Most critics will probably do the usual grumbling about plot holes and horror movie clichés, and yeah, they’re here. But this is definitely an above-average thriller, and the fine performance of Ms. Nichols easily offsets the flaws of this fast-moving little psychodrama. | Kevin Renick

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