What "Psycho" did for the shower, "P2" tries very hard to do for the parking garage, spending most of its time below ground, and below an adequate level of convincing dread.

What “Psycho” did for the shower, “P2″ tries very hard to do for the parking garage, spending most of its time below ground, and below an adequate level of convincing dread. Theatrical release will be merely a prelude to likely DVD success, at least among the hardcore, although the mix is too thin to intoxicate any but those most susceptible to gore, psychoses and the inherent terrors of the corporate office building.

That’s where Angela (Rachel Nichols), a harried executive, finds herself on Christmas Eve, and if there’s a truism in American movies, it’s this: Don’t be the last to leave the building before a holiday. Only bad things can happen.

For Angela, they happen in the form of Thomas (Wes Bentley), the good-looking but crazy-as-a-half-starved-rat-in-a-coffee-can parking attendant, whom Angela has never seen before, but who has been watching her on the security cameras for months. Part of Angela’s problem, presumably, is that she takes mass transit and has no idea what kinds of maniacs are parking her co-workers’ Volvos.

What “P2″ proves is that, given the right lighting, music and camera moves, your own living room could become a chamber of horrors. The parking garage is, by definition, claustrophobic, so helmer Franck Khalfoun has an edge here, but there’s nothing intrinsically horrible about ‘P2.” Essentially a two-character melodrama, it depends for effect largely on the performances, which, while fine individually, together are a mismatch.

Nichols is in territory well trod over the years by everyone from Fay Wray and Grace Kelly to Heather Lagenkamp, the terrified but gutsy heroine, who in this case has been chloroformed and put into a sheer white evening dress by her abductor — who must have anticipated that his captive would try to escape in an elevator, which he could then fill with water. (Nichols’ considerable physical attributes, henceforth, seem to occupy most of the screen.) She’s sympathetic, hysterical when required and likeable.

Bentley is off somewhere else entirely. Channeling Norman Bates by way of his own misfit character in “American Beauty,” thesp plays Thomas for laughs often enough that one suspects he simply had no choice. The way Thomas is written, he’s not evil — twisted, sick and probably bipolar, yes, but we can’t hate him.

He’s so divorced from anyone’s idea of reality that one can really only pity him, even when he commits the movie’s single, utterly gratuitous act of vehicular violence. He’s the kind of misfit you’d expect to have an Elvis obsession, which he does. All he needs is a copy of “The Catcher in the Rye” to make him a total cliche.

“P2″ struggles to maintain its momentum because there’s simply not enough to do in a parking garage to fill out a feature film; you might say the script contains a lot of available space. This is arguably symptomatic of the ailing horror genre, that filmmakers will go to such depths to find novel ways to terrify, maim and mutilate.

Production values are adequate.

P2

Production

A Summit Entertainment release and presentation of an Aja/Levasseur production. Produced by Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur, Patrick Wachsberger, Erik Feig. Executive producers, Bob Hayward, David Garrett, Alix Taylor. Co-producers, Daniel Jason Heffner, Greg Copeland, Jean Song. Directed by Franck Khalfoun. Screenplay, Khalfoun, Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Maxime Alexandre; editor, Patrick McMahon; music, Tomandandy; music supervisor, Buck Damon; production designer, Oleg Savytski; art director, Andrew Hull; costume designer, Ruth Secord; sound (Dolby), Rick Penn; visual effects supervisor, Jamison Scott Goei; assistant director, Chi Fung; casting, Mark Bennett. Reviewed at Mann Chinese 6, Hollywood, Nov. 7, 2007. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Thomas - Wes Bentley Angela - Rachel Nichols

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