"P2," an above-average and wholly watchable stalker thriller, comes to us as the debut directing effort of Franck Khalfoun. And while Mr. Khalfoun arrives as a worthy wringer-of-suspense from a cleverly-minimalist setup the name that's put the film on the "horror" radar (and it is, finally, a horror movie even as it's also a traditional thriller) is that of his writing and producing collaborator Alexandre Aja - the Mad Frenchman who's "Haute (High) Tension" and "The Hills Have Eyes" have already made him a one-of-a-kind creature of cinema: The premier French creator of American-style horror. "P2" isn't the most interesting thing he's ever been attached to (that'd be "Tension") or the most entertaining ("Hills") but it IS the most consistent and solid as an overall film. Funny how that works out.
But enough about him, at least until "Pirhana" (yay!) comes out. This is Khalfoun's show, and it's a come-out-of-nowhere mini-gem. That means we've got us a New Face on the horror scene, kids: so get attentive. Here he's got two lead actors for 90% of the movie, a not-on-it's-face terrifying location and a play-on-basic-fears hook for a premise to work with... and that's it. From this, he delivers a finished film which (while probably not a classic) has more than enough right with it and nothing especially wrong with it. David Slade had the same kinds of tools and the same kinds of results with last year's "Hard Candy" and went on to helm THIS year's most-excellent "30 Days of Night," for comparison. Bottom line: This is what first-time mid-scale genre entries are supposed to be like, at their best. No small feat.
The premise: A young businesswoman is trapped in an otherwise-deserted underground parking garage by her stalker - a psychotic security guard who by virtue of his job controls all the utilities, cameras, exits and keys. It's Christmas Eve, meaning the office above them and the Manhattan streets around them are equally empty; and there's no telling exactly what this creep ultimately plans to do or when he ultimately plans to do it. That's it.
Wes Bentley, aka "Guy From American Beauty," aka Jake Gyllenhaal version 1.0, is the stalker. Bentley has by now perfected an effortless-seeming air of unassuming menace - we never quite find out exactly what's "really" wrong with this guy; but he creates a definitive persona that while enigmatic always seems to be acting "in-character"... whatever it is. It's pretty clear, for example, that he suffers no delusion that his "all-powerful" stature in the situation is a momentary illusion of circumstance and posession of a few key items, but whether this makes him less or more dangerous is less readily discerned.
The female lead is Rachel Nichols, a model/actress whom you may remember from smaller roles in "Shopgirl" and "Alias" as "The One With The Astonishing Breasts." Yeah, roll your eyes. Look, I don't want to sound crude - but you gotta report on what you saw: Nichols is a fine young actress who demonstrates a real range here, (a scene involving a coerced phonecall is a real above-and-beyond moment,) with big expressive eyes and sweet-natured 'good girl' demeanor perfect for the genre; yes, absolutely. BUT go see the movie and then tell me what kept her on your mind immediately afterwards. She's a stunner, is the thing, and has a natural ability for stalking through cavernous shadows in nothing but a nightie and a generous splatter of stage-blood that indicates a potential Scream Queen in the making.
Factor in the genuinely eerie vibe the film elicits from the garage locale, a well-staged and inventive elevator sequence and a pair of well-played "money shot" kills and you're looking at a real winner of a genre pic: Creepy, scary and overall a good bit of fun. Reccomended.
FINAL RATING: 7/10