It's great to see that the high school cliques who dismissed Wes Bentley as a weirdo in American Beauty have been proved resolutely correct. For me a failing of Sam Mendes' film was always that Bentley's character remained disconcertingly creepy, even after he explained his dead animal filming antics to his only slightly less creepy girlfriend. I was with the bitchy teens on that one. After creating minor ripples at London's Frightfest festival, this Alexandre Aja (Switchblade Romance/Haute Tension) produced and co-written horror vanished with little trace at the cinema.
Bentley is on full blown nutter setting here, playing lonely security guard Thomas, who has nothing to look forward to but a Christmas on his own in the parking lot of a New York law firm. Angela (Rachel Nichols) is a career girl, whose family whines about her working late. It's Christmas Eve and she's the last to leave the office. Only, if Thomas has his way she won't be leaving at all. Armed with some keys and a guard dog he sets about terrorising her into keeping him company for the night. P2's (Parking Level 2) generic point of difference is its claustrophobic setting, taking place almost exclusively in the underground parking lot of Angela's office building.
Essentially a two person performance, P2 relies more than ever on the strength of its leads, and things don't quite work. Thomas is too familiar; he stages a forced dinner date, dances to Elvis like Buffalo Bill and displays that bizarre mix of unbelievable cunning and stunning gullibility that can only be found in horror film loonies. Textbook behaviour for portraying unhinged and psychotic, it now all feels a touch staid. Other parts of the film feel fresher. In particular a rant about the captee always using first names to address the captor shows first time director Khalfoun has at least thought about challenging genre conventions.
P2 has some interesting ideas but never fully exploits them. A successful career woman, Angela is the opposite of the dumb blonde teen harassed throughout the 70s and 80s, created and then affectionately lampooned by Wes Craven, but once under threat her response is no different – no more or less resourceful than the usual slasher fodder. The parking lot is rich ground for tapping into the shivers, but the set-up proves too thin to sustain a 90 minute film. Nichols does a fair job of running, screaming and eventually retaliating but makes no lasting impression.
Thankfully, Aja's presence is felt in the gorier scenes where a love of old-fashioned prosthetics is apparent, and there are some impressively gruesome images. Despite its shortcomings P2 is a slick and pacey thriller that's far more enjoyable than it should be, showing just enough verve to get by. Though Bentley may struggle to get a date after this.
Extras are perfunctory, although there is a decent commentary.
P2 is out to buy on Region 2 DVD and Blu-Ray from 29th September.