Collins’ Crypt: P2 Is Better Than You Remember (If You Saw It)
For a while, P2 had the unfortunate distinction of having the worst opening weekend of all time for a movie opening on over 2,000 screens. Thankfully, we have been "blessed" with so many unwanted movies since that it's no longer even in the top 10 (OK, it's at #11, but still. Thanks, Friend Request!), but it's still not a chart that Summit, the film's cast and crew, or its fans would like to see on its Boxofficemojo page. Granted, box office doesn't mean much in the long run, especially for horror movies as their budgets are low and tend to do well on home video, but it doesn't change the fact that no one really saw the movie when it had its biggest platform to find an audience. I can't even remember if I bought a ticket as I went to a press screening and the premiere so I don't think I needed a third go-around, which means I'm partly to blame.
But it's not just my fault the film tanked. The film was released by Summit, who proved time and time again that they were utterly awful at promoting their films, and P2 was no exception. The trailer goes overboard with the Christmas stuff juxtaposed with violence, which is a turnoff for many audience members (who probably wouldn't mind if it happened to show up in a film that they were interested in seeing - the metaphor about the frog in boiling water can be applied), but they also released the film in early November, which is a weird time to release a horror movie, as Halloween just ended and lots of folks (myself included) enjoy a little reprieve from October's overload. It was also perhaps too early for a Christmas-themed movie, and even if it wasn't, they were releasing it against another holiday film (Fred Claus) that was far more appealing to anyone who wanted to start getting into the spirit. And the trailer didn't even bother to play up the connection to Hills Have Eyes (2006), a major hit from the previous year from the same creative team (Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur, and Franck Khalfoun) which is such a rookie move.
The trailer does at least sell the concept of the movie, so they got that much right. Our protagonist is Angela (Rachel Nichols), who works at some vaguely defined high-powered business in the Toronto borough of Manhattan and is trying to clear her plate for the holidays by working late on Christmas Eve. Khalfoun (who also directed) and his co-writers quickly establish most of what we need to know - she's late for a family party, her boss recently made some unwanted advances toward her, and because of the holiday most people have cleared out and the building has been more or less locked up for good. When she goes down to her car in the garage under their building and finds that she is unable to start it, it's more than the usual aggravation, as her options for help are limited and she's late for her party as is. Enter Thomas (Wes Bentley), the garage's security guard. He tries to help her start the car but has no luck, further exasperating her and sending her on a brief attempt to secure a cab, only to discover that the upstairs lobby has already been locked up and she is unable to exit. Back down to the garage she goes, and within a few minutes she is subdued by Thomas, who (for those who didn't figure it out already) is an unhinged loner who is obsessed with her and figures this is the best chance for her to get to know him, even if he had to knock her out and tie her to a chair in his office to break the ice.
On a base level, this is no different than any number of '90s "____ from hell" thrillers where someone gets obsessed with a person they barely know and start lashing out violently when they can't have what they want, but the confined space and timeline separates it from movies like The Crush and Hand That Rocks The Cradle, as there is only a single scene where our hero isn't terrified of the villain. There's none of the usual "he/she starts to suspect something is wrong with their new friend" stuff - they skip past all of that and basically give us the third act of one of these movies, albeit for an entire feature that spans one evening instead of the usual weeks.
As I rewatched the movie for the first time in a few years, I realized that if anything it works better now than it did in 2007 when no one else was seeing it anyway, making it an excellent choice for rediscovery. I've always enjoyed the film, but I re-read my original review (now ten years old!) and noticed that I originally had issues with Wes Bentley's lack of menace. Now I'm a bit wiser, and whether it was intentional or not I don't know, but either way his "nice guy" attitude - even after we know he's a psycho - makes the movie a must-see for 2017, as he's basically the horror movie version of Jason Sudeikis' character in Colossal. Thomas truly doesn't want to physically harm Angela, who he has built up as this perfect being, and keeps holding out hope she'll "come around" and fall in love with him. Instead he wants to keep helping her and defending her (at one point he actually says "It's my job to protect you"), basically be the "white knight" these MRA types make themselves out to be and lash out when things don't go their way (though they tend to settle for just sending the object of their affection nasty tweets, not trapping them in garages). The idea, at least it seems to me know, is to show how these guys that one might say "Oh he's harmless" about are really just as dangerous, if not more so, than the ones who are pretty upfront about their psychotic behavior.
With the compressed timeframe there isn't much time to establish a trust that will be broken and/or show warning signs before the shit hits the fan, as most films in this "Psycho (cop, landlord, teacher, whatever)" sub-genre are able to, but thankfully, Khalfoun and his partners establish a number of things that help us fill in all those blanks. One key moment occurs when Angela first takes the elevator down to the garage along with the lobby security guard, Karl. She asks him about his children, which tells us two things - that this corpse-in-waiting has kids who aren't gonna see their dad for Christmas, and that Angela is not blind to the blue-collar guys she encounters on a daily basis. She just never took the time to notice Thomas, which is one of the things that enrages him, and without that little throwaway detail about Karl some viewers (i.e. angry guys) might just assume Angela is stuck-up or something, when it's just that this dude never took the time to actually talk to her before, unlike Karl. Later, when she lies about having a boyfriend that is on his way to meet her, Thomas never believes her story for a second and goes to ridiculous extremes when patronizing her ("What kind of car does he drive? Oh man those are fast, I bet he's coming down the ramp now!"), letting us know that this guy knows more about her than he possibly could from opening the gate for her in the morning after she waves her work ID. Bonus: he even mansplains her a bit when they first meet, telling her that she probably left her lights on and killed the battery, then doubts her when she insists that she didn't. It's his only scene as a non-villain, but they're already laying the groundwork for the fact that he sucks.
These bits of shorthand allow the film to focus on the stuff we came here for, namely cat and mouse suspense. The movie isn't quite real time but close to it, and the various ways armchair quarterback viewers will likely be questioning the film's logic are usually clarified. The garage is underground, so the number of exits are obviously limited (no windows) with Thomas controlling the large metal gates that have most of them secured. The elevator is decommissioned in a key horror sequence, and electronic locks and the obvious lack of cell service when underground surrounded by concrete are sufficient explanations for why she is still stuck even when she escapes her restraints, and why she is unable to call for help. At one point she does make it to an exterior door (also a large metal gate) and can get a faint signal, but only by holding the phone so far out that she can't be understood by the dispatcher. The only thing they don't really cover is the fact that there are obviously a few people in the building as we see a few scattered cars on the lower floors (there are also a bunch near Thomas' office, but he explains that they are for a rental agency), and thus any of them could come down at any time, but they never bother with this scenario, straining the credibility somewhat.
Luckily, Angela makes for such a great heroine that you're likely to be wrapped up in her plight to think about it all that much. Again, the movie takes time to cover the "If it were ME..." bases and shows how she tries those things, which do not work (and not because of her lack of competence). She occasionally attempts to play along with his wishes, but feebly so - we are thankfully spared an icky scene where she allows him to kiss her or whatever so she can use the distraction to grab a weapon. She is always thinking smart and using all available resources to survive - and Jurassic World viewers will be happy to know she gets rid of her high heels fairly early on (and before you complain about her wardrobe, he makes her wear it; she wore business casual to work I assure you). Thomas has to resort to drugging her and (eventually) physical violence to keep her restrained, while she is constantly outwitting/outrunning him with her own brain and brawn without ever turning into a superhuman. And this isn't a movie where our hero gets beaten to a pulp - for the obvious reasons his attacks are limited to taser blasts and low-key scuffles. Her gnarliest injury is an accidental one she causes on her own, involving a fingernail (ouch).
As for the Christmas angle (I'm hoping to sway a few of you that are just looking for something to watch besides Black Christmas!), the movie definitely dives deep into the iconography of the holiday, going so far as to have Bentley wear a Santa suit for a brief period (it's hers, she was bringing it to the family party). Aja and co. are not afraid to go a little goofy in their horror films, and this one is no exception - one scene has Bentley belting out "Blue Christmas" in its entirety (complete with the "Thank you very much"), which is ostensibly just giving him something to be distracted by while Angela smashes some of his surveillance cameras. He also uses "Santa Baby" on the garage's PA system to drown out any potential noise she might make when she is locked in a trunk during the obligatory "the cops come to check on a call they got" scene that might be a cliche but is always good for a nice little nailbiter sequence. And the timing is how they explain why everything is shut down, why cabs are difficult to get, etc., so unlike that other movie where the hero is trapped in a building on December 24th, there shouldn't be much debate over whether or not this counts as a Christmas movie.
But even without the Christmas stuff, it's a fine time to give the movie a fresh (or first) look. Angela also deals with her boss making unwanted sexual advances toward her, and while he is apologetic about it (even in private we see him regretting his actions) I'm sure many viewers will cheer when he is punished for his actions. And without spoiling anything, it's worth noting what exactly prompts Angela's final action against Tom, as most of these kind of movies have the hero dispatch the villain in a moment of self-defense, but this does something slightly different and more potentially cathartic for any woman who has ever been verbally abused by some asshole. It's not the best movie of its type or anything like that, but as a nearly forgotten thriller from a time where most of its competition was remakes and torture flicks (Saw IV and Rob Zombie's Halloween were both in theaters at the time this was released), it deserves at least a small fanbase. It's a shame it fell through the cracks as it hit home video just before Blu-ray really took off and thus not every title was given the honor (though it did come out on HD-DVD), and then Summit was absorbed by Lionsgate who can't even do right by their own major titles (there's still no decent Blu of the original Saw), but thankfully Shudder has just added it to their service which should make it easier to watch. If you've never seen it, I hope you enjoy - and if you have, I hope you also find more to appreciate now than you did ten years ago.