P2 should actually be shown in film schools as an example of how to take a simple concept – a person trapped in a seemingly empty urban complex overnight – and make narrative decisions a drunken chimp would avoid.
Alexander Aja and Gregor Levasseur have been writing films since Aja's feature film debut, Furia (1999), a solid post-apocalyptic rebellion drama based on a Julio Cortazar story, and they've followed through with Haute tension / High Tension (2003) and their own The Hills Have Eyes remake (2006) – films respectively based on other works with their own moderately solid structure. (Hills was successfully updated with the writers' own brand of super-nihilism, whereas Haute was a blatant riffing on the opening of Dean R. Koontz' otherwise labored serial killer thriller, Intensity.)
Exactly how much director Franck Khalfoun, a former actor, contributed to the script isn't clear, but P2 ranks as one of the most boneheaded thrillers of 2007, mostly because each new element lessens audience interest in the two-character conflict.
The film begins with a slow-burning sense of doom as Angela (Rachel Nichols, the blonde tormentor in The Woods) hurries to leave the building for a family Xmas dinner, exchanging comments with two characters – a married coworker and a genial building security guard - that will reappear later on once Tom the parking guard (Wes Bentley) begins to torment the woman he's been eyeing, presumably for a few years.
Tom's plan is to know Angela better, so he locks up the building, knocks her out, and chains her ankle to the office table where they're supposed to have a microwaved dinner while Tom's Rottweiler is tethered nearby, and Tom initially wears a Santa suit. His present is to Angela is to beat, pulverize, and eviscerate the coworker he caught drunkenly fondling Angela in a elevator, shortly after the two had left the staff Xmas party. It's supposed to be a demonstration of his devotion. Fine. All well rendered in gory intestinal sloshing detail.
The problems with the whole screenplay are manifold: Tom's delusional persona is comprised of the familiar cliché-ridden voyeur, the affable local boy with earnest intentions, and a moron who hasn't thought things through beyond his Xmas dinner and his ‘present' to Angela. Once the coworker has been mushed to a pulp via Tom's eighties Oldsmobile, the screenwriters basically have Angela running around a lot, getting caught here and there, and throwing in fleeting encounters or near-encounters with people from beyond the building's borders.
Tom, on his own or through Angela, should've confronted the total lack of a third act in his own plan (Does he plan to marry her? Keep her in a file cabinet? Ferry her home after the holidays?), given he's got three days before the building is repopulated by returning staff; and how exactly does he plan to stay on the job when he's flooded an elevator, bloodied the garage, and dumped the security guard's body inside the elevator to torment Angela while the security cameras are recording his every move?
Perhaps the daftest moment has Angela, in an early scene, hiding behind a pillar which apparently masks her scent or sounds from Tom's pooch, seated a mere ten or twenty meters away; then in a later scene, said pooch helps Tom track down his love by a locked entry ramp.
There's also a laziness to bits of detail the writers introduce but fail to mine: Angela runs barefoot throughout the lot but never harms herself nor lets the lack of shoes interfere with an underground game of automobile chicken; a vicious dog bite draws little blood nor interferes with her leg muscle movement (including driving chicken); and a broken & torn-off nail is tossed in as a gratuitous ‘Ew!' moment but then ignored after the aforementioned and brilliantly pointless elevator sequence.
[END OF SPOILERS]
Khalfoun's direction is workmanlike, and the look, tone, and bursts of gore are similar to Aja's own directorial ventures; Aja, as seen in the DVD's featurettes, was present during filming in Toronto, and one gets a sense he mandated a specific style and construction to which Khalfoun cosmetically adhered. P2 has two elements going for it: gore (including a Fulci moment involving pen-to-eyeball trauma), and massive bulging cleavage, but they alone can't support or inflate a flaccid script that feels like a hastily written thriller scribbled by too many minds.
Seville's Canadian DVD release contains a clean anamorphic transfer of the film at 1.78:1, not the matted 2.35:1 ratio released in theatres, which may have some buyers grumbling. (An A/B comparison of shots between the trailer, archived at the film's website, versus the Seville DVD reveals more head and bottom room on the DVD, thereby offering more information and, uhm, robust cleavage.)
In terms of extras, there's a commentary track and several lengthy making-of featurettes (basically glorified and expanded EPKs), but given the film is time-wasting junk, it's impossible to believe anyone would side with Khalfoun (who gets his own aggrandizing featurette), Aja, and the actors as they blather on about the virtues of their clever "psychologically challenging" thriller and deeply-rendered characters. Beyond shock cuts, loud sound smashes and gore, there's nothing in the film that'll make one jump. P2 is as dull and interminable as the genre remakes that continue to litter and abuse audience patience.
That alone is ironic, because Aja and Levasseur seem content to remake foreign and classic thrillers that revisit already familiar elements. In addition to Mirrors, a 2008 remake of the Korean film Into the Mirrors / Geoul sokeuro (2003) by Sung-ho Kim that involves a late night security guard in a shopping mall, there's a remake of the controversial Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) with its killer Santa Claus, and announced is a new version of Piranha (1978).
Aja's first two works established him as a filmmaker with a potent visual sense and a unique skill for extracting sometimes excruciating tension in moments of prolonged, primal brutality, and it's a shame he's applying his skills on remakes and riffs that are innately referential to tired conventions, which ultimately give him little room to create something bold and fresh.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan