Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Movie: P2

One problem with having a solid, verifiable trend is that people—naturally—will try to cash in on it. In the wake of the J-Horror craze, how many Ringu rip-offs did we endure? After The Sixth Sense, how many movies had to have a mind-blowing twist ending (well, other than the ones the M. Night Shyamalan himself put out)? So when the producers of P2 receive top billing, you can almost hear the cash registers ringing in the background.

So even though Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur have their fingerprints all over the screenplay, it’s Franck Khalfoun (perhaps best known as “guy-with-axe-in-his-back” in High Tension) who has actually puts on the director's hat. And while the set-up of the film is brilliant—one woman, one psychopath, and an abandoned parking garage—the execution somehow didn’t hold up.

The film—essentially a folie à deux—therefore hinges on the two main characters. Both Angela, the victim, and Thomas, the psychopath, suffer from being woefully underwritten. Eager to get to the red stuff as quick as possible, Angela furrows her brow, calls her family (it’s Christmas eve), and frets—none of which really makes her endearing. Thomas has screaming fits and glares angrily at the camera, but none of this makes him threatening. He’s too busy chloroforming Angela and handcuffing her to tables to be a fully-formed character. Supposedly, his loneliness is the source of his madness, but this is something that’s announced (somewhat unconvincingly), rather than evinced. Imagine a movie in which you both fear and pity the protagonist… now how scary would that be? (Hint: think of Asami in Audition.)

It’s a pity, since the set-up of P2 had so much potential. Usually “trapped in a bad place” films take place in the countryside, where the entire locale has been steeped in cannibalistic hillbillies. But to have a common urban landscape become utterly defamiliarized… this is the stuff of nightmares. P2 also hints at some underlying class tension (Thomas might as well be singing “Uptown Girl”), but it dispenses any deeper examination with a character that might as well be wearing a sign that says “dead meat.” It's much too easy to kill yuppies; everyone secretly cheers. (And it's a nasty death, too; the scene drags the entire enterprise into sleazy territory. And of course you can’t have torture porn without a wince-worthy fingernail extraction or ocular damage scene.)

Aja and Levasseur still have a little ways to go before they can establish themselves as a reliable brand name in horror, à la Romero. They can craft some effective thrills, no doubt, but for P2, it feels like they punched a button, got a ticket, waited for the gate to go up, and then just finally drove away.

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