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In this special holiday edition of The Silver Lining, we’ll be covering Franck Khalfoun’s overlooked urban horror movie, P2.
From gothic castles to isolated suburbs, horror stories are usually set far away from bustling urban centers. While there are occasional examples of urban horror flicks, such as Candyman and Maniac Cop, writers usually tend to avoid heavily populated areas because the abundance of people means that it’s harder to believe our main characters are actually in danger.
However, any fan of True Crime will tell you that being around other people doesn’t necessarily guarantee your safety, as many (if not most) horrific deaths do in fact happen in large cities, with onlookers and law enforcement often being unable -or unwilling- to intervene when something terrible happens. It’s real stories like these that inspired 2007’s P2, an underrated urban thriller that dives into the very plausible dangers of finding yourself alone on Christmas.
Co-written (and co-produced) by Alexandre Aja and long-time collaborator Grégory Levasseur, P2 was meant to be a down-to-earth successor to the extreme slasher thrills of 2003’s Haute Tension. At the time, Aja himself was too busy with other projects to direct, so he and Grégory approached their friend Franck Khalfoun to helm the proposed picture.
With a script inspired by real life attacks against women in Paris parking garages, the story of P2 follows Angela Bridges (Rachel Nichols) as she finds herself working late on Christmas Eve in Manhattan. Once she finally decides to head home, the unfortunate office worker heads down to the parking garage only to discover that her car won’t start and she’s being pursued by a maniacal security guard (Wes Bentley). Trapped and isolated by a relentless stalker – as well as his trusty Rottweiler Rocky – Angela must find away to escape the parking garage or wake up to a red Christmas.
Boasting a talented team both in front of and behind the cameras, not to mention a premise that’s sure to resonate with anyone who’s ever found themselves alone at night in a metropolitan city, this dark little Christmas movie seemed destined for holiday success.
SO WHAT WENT WRONG?
Single location horror movies are usually a safe bet when it comes to a wide release. After all, even if they don’t do gangbusters at the box office, these inexpensive films tend to make a profit after enough time in theaters. Unfortunately, P2 wasn’t one of these cases, earning a meager $7.7 million on a $3.5 million budget. While this might seem like a successful run, factoring in marketing costs and theater cuts indicates that the production likely failed to break even.
To make matters worse, critics really despised the flick, with P2 currently sitting on a 34% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. At the time, reviewers claimed that the film was dull and formulaic even when compared to the remakes and reboots that occupied 2000s theater screens. Additionally, several recurring complaints were directed at the film’s excessive violence, with critics accusing the movie of being excessively mean-spirited and exploitational.
Some of these negative reactions weren’t all that surprising, with the film’s production having its fair share of problems. P2 was actually shot in a real parking garage over the course of two months, with the crew dealing with constant interruptions and a grueling schedule in order to complete the film as cheaply and efficiently as possible.
Nichols also claims that the shoot left her literally bruised and battered, with the actress performing several tiresome stunts over and over again while also having to wear real handcuffs instead of expensive props. Plus, while the actor was quite professional during work hours, the film was shot during the height of Wes Bentley’s battle with addiction, adding another layer of issues to an already troubled production.
All in all, P2 wasn’t exactly the American Haute Tension that the filmmakers had in mind, alienating general audiences with its mean streak and feeling a little too familiar to impress genre fans.
THE SILVER LINING
Back when I was a kid and my family had just moved to Toronto, my parents landed a job tidying up office buildings late at night. And since they had no immediate family in the country that they could leave me with, I would often tag along while they were on the job. This means that I spent a lot of time wandering around empty waiting rooms and parking garages, which led to a lifelong fascination with a specific kind of eerie loneliness that you can only get in empty urban environments. It’s exactly this kind of urban solitude that makes P2 so fascinating to me.
Yes, the movie can be a little too predictable and the script doesn’t quite decide if it wants to be a realistic psychological thriller or a traditional slasher flick, but the end product is still an incredibly atmospheric thriller and a unique take on a classic game of cinematic cat and mouse in an unusual environment.
And if the nihilistic premise of being trapped and alone despite there being millions of people around you isn’t thrilling enough, P2 also boasts some legitimately compelling lead performances. Production may not have been a walk in the park, but Nichols claims that the difficulties made everything feel that much more real, and Bentley totally knocks it out of the park with his take on an obsessive stalker that has an unhealthy crush on his victim.
Personally, I think that many of the issues pointed out by critics are precisely what made the movie fun, with the exploitational aspects making the experience feel like a 70s production that just so happened to be completed in the 2000s. In fact, had the film come out during a different time, I bet it would have sizable cult following as a unique holiday thriller.
P2 doesn’t reinvent the wheel with its premise or characters, but I firmly believe that it’s a worthy addition to any holiday horror marathon – especially if you prefer subtle Christmas movies that don’t necessarily flaunt the holiday spirit in your face. So if you’re tired of killer Santas and low-budget Krampus movies, I’d recommend revisiting the urban horror of this grounded little thriller.
Just watch your back next time you’re in a parking garage…
Watching a bad movie doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad experience. Even the worst films can boast a good idea or two, and that’s why we’re trying to look on the bright side with The Silver Lining, where we shine a light on the best parts of traditionally maligned horror flicks.
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