Thursday, February 28, 2008

P2 (2007) d. Franck Khalfoun

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

The setting of a film will often determine the nature of the characters’ interactions with each other and their surroundings. For example, in Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, there were a variety of interior and exterior sets running the gamut from mundane to moody to malevolent, each causing the character to react to their environment and eliciting a visceral response from the viewer. However, in Hitchcock’s ROPE, the exceedingly simple settings forced the onus of conflict to be initiated and maintained by the characters alone, creating a very different type of film, despite the premise of murder being the link between the two. In P2, the simple setting and small number of the characters establishes a compelling conflict that makes for a tense horror/thriller for the balance of the film until P2 veers off into another genre, to its detriment.

P2 is the story of workaholic Angela Bridges, played by Rachel Nichols and her attempts to extricate herself from the office on Christmas Eve. As “Murphy’s Law” asserts itself and one bad thing after another happens, Angela’s problems are immeasurably increased when it becomes obvious that her predicament has been partly created by a calculating stalker bent on controlling her. Before long, Angela is in a fight for her freedom, trapped in the firm’s parking garage and with only her feisty resolve capable of saving her life.

P2 begins patiently, as we watch Angela’s day descend into the abyss with increasing speed, causing the viewer to feel that delicious sense of inevitable approaching disaster. Rachel Nichols portrays Angela’s character in a complex vein. We feel sorry for with her terrible plight and yet, Angela’s corporate coldness and brusque bitchiness make her a somewhat unsympathetic character. When the bottom drops out and she is fully in the clutches of Wes Bentley’s character Thomas, the character interplay between the two and the intensifying drama played out in scene after scene is the strength of the film. Wes Bentley gives just as complex a performance as Miss Nichols does. Thomas is alternately the pathetic loner, the manipulative sicko and the violent psychopath. Thomas’s machinations swap between wooing Angela, gently bullying her and violently terrorizing her and the interaction between the create forceful conflict. Coupled with some very impressive camera work that draws forth every last drop of dynamism from the commonplace nature of a parking garage and the patient pacing of this film, P2 was a gripping and unpredictable movie for roughly three-quarters of its length. After carefully crafting a film where setting, characters and story were sinuously woven together, director Franck Khalfoun or The Suits pulling the purse strings or both allowed this fine film to end on a sour note.

Any film that tries to emulate potentially realistic occurrences, despite being a work of fiction, must maintain its sense of logic. One level on which P2 began to go wrong was when Thomas begins to threaten Angela’s life in earnest. To so meticulously have created his menagerie where Angela could be confined, only to throw it away by trying to kill her derails the story’s forward progress. I can hear my colleagues now saying “not everything has to make sense”, but in this case, it does! Why would bland, everyday Thomas want lovely, stylish Angela so much, only to destroy her? If he was that much a maniac, it is unlikely he would have maintained his camouflage for long in his job in the firm. The other problem was that P2 devolved into an action film towards its latter stages. This shift of style shatters the wonderfully uncomfortable yet palpable relationship that had been forged between the characters and it was done simply to bring some “bangs and flashes” into P2. The disappointment on my face must have been obvious by the time Angela and Thomas had their “car duel” in the parking garage. If it sounds funny, it is, but that is the problem. P2 had developed such a serious, sinister and sadistic tone by then, that to chuck it away for the sake of ramping up the adrenaline response was a real shame. Had the director, writers and producers taken a lesson from Hitchcock’s ROPE, they might have noted that a film doesn’t have to end with car crashes, eye gouges and flames to be powerful.

P2 has an impressive collection of extras that will delight anyone interested in digging beneath the surface of this film and movie-making in general. In addition to commentaries by the director and other crew, there is a featurette called “A New Level of Fear: The Making of P2”, a short feature called “Designing Terror”, where P2 special effects designers discuss the tricks of their trade and “Tension Nouveau” which is a profile of director Franck Khalfoun. For a film that was not a box office smash, nor a modern classic, this is a remarkable array of goodies that will illuminate the darker corners of this film’s past.

Choosing a simple yet forbidding setting like a parking garage and putting two capable actors to the test in a taut and grueling story was the reason why P2 was a very worthwhile viewing experience for the balance of its run. It is too bad it didn’t stay that way. It is never obvious why a film gets hijacked and runs off into the tall grass on its own, but I always feel an overwhelming sense of ennui when that happens. It reminds me of when I would be listening to the radio as a youth and just as my favorite song was coming to its closing bars, the DJ would start talking over the music. We like our satisfaction to be complete, and although that can’t happen in life all the time, it would have been nice had it been the case with P2.

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