P2

P2

***

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

There's no pleasing some people.

In the post-9/11 context, when the media are abuzz with the all-too-real imagery of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, and when phrases like 'collateral damage' and 'external rendition' trip off the tongue rather than sticking in the throat, it is none too surprising that the spectacle of torture has once again become a staple of the horror genre, reflecting the anxieties and dramatising the dilemmas of this wonderful world we live in. Yet make a film like Saw, Hostel, The Devil's Rejects, Broken, Paradise Lost or Captivity, and you are liable to see it labeled 'torture porn' by critics who fail to recognise that all this protracted rending of flesh has more to do with the contemporary geopolitical situation than with the peddling of erotic extremes.

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Franck Khalfoun, Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur should know. After all, their break out collaborations, the psychological thriller Switchblade Romance (2003) and the over-the-top remake The Hills Have Eyes (2006), faced criticism from some quarters for their overreliance on physical torment as a means to cinematic entertainment. To which the trio ought to have responded with a shrug, and a mumbling about horror (real or otherwise) being like that. Instead, however, they have given us P2, which if nothing else is a hard lesson in how sometimes just a little so-called 'torture porn' would go a long long way.

P2 opens with a long tracking shot through the deserted second floor of an underground carpark ('P2'). The camera moves at a leisurely pace towards the only car parked there, circles slowly towards the rear boot, moves in to focus on the boot's keyhole – only for the end of a tyrejack to burst though the lock from the inside, revealing within a skimpily clad, screaming woman with her hands cuffed behind her back.

This is Angela (Rachel Nichols), a workaholic executive from one of the offices above, who had been working late on Christmas Eve, and then found her car unable to start and the empty building's front doors locked. Softly spoken garage security guard Thomas (Wes Bentley) offered to help, and invited her to share the Christmas dinner he had in his office – and next thing she knows, Angela has woken up cuffed to her chair, in a low-cut evening dress that she was definitely not wearing before, with a romantic meal setting laid out before her. Thomas, you see, has been watching Angela for a very long time, and has always believed that if she just got to know him, they could become intimate friends, or maybe even something more. And so begins Angela's worst nightmare, as she must try to escape her erotomaniacal captor and get off P2 alive.

The set-up is solid, the direction accomplished, there is a woman in peril aptly piercing on the ear and easy on the eye, and a show-stealing villain armed with a stun device, a lack of compunction, and an ever so slightly gloating politeness that hits all the right notes of unhinged. So all the pieces are in place for a great thriller – and then, just like your typical Yuletide get-together, it all falls a little flat.

Like Switchblade Romance, the film is built around tension, but there is only so much tension to be squeezed from what is essentially a straightforward two-player game of cat-and-mouse in a claustrophobic - but also limited - setting. Unlike Switchblade Romance, there is no paradigm-shifting twist here – and while Angela's lecherous boss must endure a truly crushing punishment, Angela's sufferings are of a more psychological vein. When the realisation hits that the worst physical injury she will sustain is a broken nail, you may well find yourself wishing for a bit more torture, just to keep things more diverting – although the only politics on offer here are those of the office.

Reviewed on: 10 Dec 2007
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A workaholic woman gets stalked in parking garage on Christmas Eve.
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Darren Amner **1/2

Director: Franck Khalfoun

Writer: Alexandre Aja, Franck Khalfoun, Grégory Levasseur

Starring: Wes Bentley, Rachel Nichols, Miranda Edwards, Jamie Jones, Grace Lynn Kung, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Stephanie Moore, Simon Reynolds, Philip Williams

Year: 2007

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: US

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