Meet Thomas (Wes Bentley). Clean cut lad, a bit nerdy, but polite and thoughtful. Steady job as a security guard in the underground car park of a high-rise office building. Likes Elvis, dotes on his rottweiler Rocky, and gets a little blue at being on his own at Christmastime. Oh, and he’s a got a bit of a thing for career-focused businesswoman Angela (Rachel Nichols).
A bit of an unhealthy thing, actually.
This becomes sickeningly apparent to Angela at the end of a really crap last day at the office before the holidays. Christmas Eve, in fact. The office party – at which she only just managed to fend off the drunken advances of Jim (Simon Reynolds), a married colleague – is over, and everyone’s gone home but Karl (Philip Akin) the concierge and Thomas. Angela’s still putting the finishing touches to an important contract. Her relatives ring, wondering why she’ll be joining them. Eventually, the contract completed, Angela takes the lift down to parking level two where he car refuses to start. Thomas offers assistance, but when his charger makes no difference to the battery, Angela insists on going back up to the foyer to wait for a cab. Thomas asks her to spend Christmas with him, but she politely refuses. Upstairs, the cab finally arrives only to drive unceremoniously away again when Angela finds the main doors locked. So it’s back down to the underground parking area again and this is where things turn nasty.
Thomas’s Christmas celebrations involve a chloroform-soaked handkerchief, a chain that shackles Angela’s foot to his desk and a cleavage-revealing little white dress that Angela, awakening groggily, finds that he’s dressed her in having divested her of the business suit. But, y’know, he’s laid on dinner as well.
What follows, except for the sundry fates of the lecherous Jim and the luckless Karl, is a claustrophobic two-hander. Thomas’s delusions of romancing Angela, evidenced by his “gee whiz” persona and almost fawning attentiveness, give way to incrementally more threatening behaviour. For all his initial insistence that he won’t harm her, Thomas loses his cool when Angela defends Jim’s drunken mistake as just that while Thomas insists that he should be taught a lesson for treating her disrespectfully (I’ll leave you to work out his score in the Double Standard Olympic event yourselves). Later, when she escapes the confines of his office for the only marginally less prison-like environment of the four parking levels, the gloves are off and Thomas sets out to win back the maiden fair by means of
When Angela takes the fight back to him, she uses ingenuity and survival instinct. And an axe. A fucking big axe.
Co-written by director Franck Khalfoun and producers Alexandre Aja (he of ‘Switchblade Romance’, the ‘Hills Have Eyes’ remake and latterly, uh, ‘Piranha 3D’) and Gregory Levasseur, ‘P2’ arrived in 2007 at the tail end of a glut of “torture porn” flicks. Sequels ‘Hostel Part II’ and ‘The Hills Have Eyes 2’ had opened to lacklustre reviews, while the ‘Saw’ franchise was up to its fourth instalment. Roland Joffe’s ‘Captivity’, released a few months prior to ‘P2’, had been roundly drubbed, the controversy generated by its advertising campaign doing it few favours in terms of box office takings. To put it mildly, ‘P2’ wasn’t in good company and it met with critical indifference and a small audience. Which is a deal shame. Because, for all its formulaic set-up and reliance on established tropes, ‘P2’ is a cracking little movie.
Khalfoun cares enough about character to give over 20 minutes to establishing his heroine and her Christmas Eve catalogue of bad luck, and then almost another 20 minutes to developing Thomas beyond me snarling psycho, before cutting loose with the nasty stuff. Even then, he doesn’t rely on violence and gore alone to carry the second act (although he throws around the red stuff liberally enough on a couple of occasions). At its best, ‘P2’ is an old-school cat ‘n’ mouse thriller, the shadows and brutal concrete architecture of the car park throwing slabs of menace across each frame. Khalfoun, in his directorial debut, ratchets up the tension like a pro.
There are also some nice touches of humour, such as Thomas miming to ‘Blue Christmas’ and doing a little boogie with a giant teddy bear. Bentley gives a memorable performance, slowly peeling away the layers of Thomas’s mania from reticent but smitten nerdy type to vengeful nutcase, while Nichols makes for a feisty protagonist who avoids all the potential pitfalls of clichéd scream queen histrionics. Despite the plunging neckline.