Dir: Franck Khalfoun. US. 2007. 98mins.

Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur, the French horror auteurs behind Haute Tension (aka Switchblade Romance), cut back on the gore and turn up the suspense for P2, a streamlined US thriller they wrote for Haute Tension-actor-turned-director Franck Khalfoun. The paucity of gory details and the limited star power of leads Wes Bentley and Rachel Nichols will make it tough for this Summit Entertainment production to score big at the box office. But genre aficionados might drive a decent performance in ancillary markets.

The film opens wide in North America this weekend as the first release from Summit's new theatrical distribution arm. Positioned opposite After Dark's HorrorFest 2 and between Saw IV and The Mist, P2 will have to do what theatrical business it can pretty quickly. Independent distributors in the international marketplace that have licensed the film from Summit International may be able to find less competitive release slots, though for them the low star wattage will be even more of a liability. Local recognition of Aja and Levasseur should boost takings in France.

Aja (who also directed Haute Tension and last year's US remake of The Hills Have Eyes) and his writing partner Levasseur embrace the limitations of the story's setting in the multi-level car park of a New York office building.

Angela (Nichols) is an ambitious young executive working late on Christmas Eve. When her car won't start, Thomas (Bentley), an apparently friendly security guard, offers to help. Thomas' demeanour soon turns sinister, though, and Angela finds herself a captive guest at the romantic Christmas dinner that Thomas has carefully planned in his P2 level cubbyhole.

Khalfoun, a music video and commercial director making his feature debut (and getting a co-writer credit), delivers a few jolts - several of them intensified by the score from film, TV and commercial music group Tomandandy - early on, but then allows the tension to develop slowly as Angela's situation worsens. Early scenes involving Thomas and Angela seem talky but at least give the characters a bit of substance.

The second half is a cat-and-mouse game, with Angela (whose mobile phone conveniently lacks reception) searching, with ever increasing desperation, for a way out of the parking structure, and Thomas, with his vicious-looking dog in tow, calmly stalking. The spooky spaces of the parking garage provide some interesting locations for the action, though they might have been exploited more effectively.

In contrast to Haute Tension and The Hills Have Eyes, P2 has only a couple of really violent scenes. The first, in which Thomas beats one of Angela's male colleagues and then rams him with a car, is genuinely gruesome. The second, when Angela gives Thomas his bloody comeuppance, is played more for grim laughs.

The two leads handle their heavy on-screen duties well though the script doesn't give them much in the way of character arcs. Bentley (best known for American Beauty) adds a pathetic edge to Thomas' self-delusion and finds the right tone for the almost-funny moments including a bizarre Elvis karaoke turn. Nichols (from The Amityville Horror remake and TV's Alias) makes Angela's transformation from diligent worker to desperate avenger sufficiently believable.

Production company/backer
Summit Entertainment (US)

US distribution
Summit Entertainment

International sales
Summit International
(1) 310 309 8400

Alexandre Aja
Gregory Levasseur
Patrick Wachsberger
Erik Feig

Executive producers
David Garrett
Alix Taylor

Alexandre Aja
Franck Khalfoun
Gregory Levasseur

Maxime Alexandre

Production design
Oleg Savytski

Patrick McMahon


Main cast
Wes Bentley
Rachel Nichols