Trapped in their New York brownstone's panic room, a hidden chamber built as a sanctuary in the event of break-ins, newly divorced Meg Altman and her young daughter Sarah play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with three intruders - Burnham, Raoul and Junior - during a brutal home invasion. But the room itself is the focal point because what the intruders really want is inside it.
Fincher's often derided thriller demands repeat viewings.
Meg Altman and her daughter Sarah, move into a vast Brownstone home, this place is unique because it has a panic room, a room of safety from where no intruders can gain access. Sure enough on their first night in their new home, they are forced to flee to the room as three intruders break in to the house, but trouble is, is that what the intruders want is in the panic room itself.
From the off we know that Panic Room is going to be oozing David Fincher stylishness, the opening credits sprawled across the Manhattan skyscrape like advertising billboards, perfectly set the tone for the movie to follow. I personally think that following on from the harshness and ingenuity of "Fight Club", many were surprised at the simplicity of Panic Room's structure, this is after all a straight forward cat and mousery thriller set in one foreboding building. Yet Fincher gains much claustrophobia from such a large building setting, managing to rack up the tension in every reel. The film, in spite of the oppressive nature of the story, never sits still either. The action kicks in from the off and through a series of devilish stunts, it continues through to the pulse raising finale.
The David Koepp screenplay does not seem dark enough on the first viewing, because some of the interplay between the three intruders is actually jocular, but it never loses sight of its thriller heart. Subsequent revisits to the film reveal it to be a tightly constructed character piece, in what is practically a five character story. The real winner in that department is Jodie Foster's Meg Altman, it would have been easy for the character to be ground out as some super heroine, with death defying feats of courage masking her out as wonder woman, but Fincher has her pure and simply as a resourceful human being. She's fiercely maternal and strong and intelligent, but at her core she remains fallible, and with that she becomes believable. The other big plus point in the film is Fincher's use of the house, where his camera glides about like a phantom, a ghostly observer to the unfolding proceedings. In and out of locks and coffee pots, up and down stairs, tilts, as we track the movements of the intruders, Fincher isn't showing off, he's putting us the viewer into the mix as well.
Cast are very good, Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and a surprisingly potent Dwight Yoakam all come together very well under Fincher's watchful eye, whilst young Kristen Stewart as Sarah puts much emotive heart into a role that could so easily have been too syrupy approaching the final act. Yes it's fair to say that one has to suspend disbelief, this is after all a home invasion thriller following a true course, but in Fincher's hands it rises above cliché to thrive on atmospherics and character dynamics. Well put together and big on ticking time bomb tension, Panic Room gets better on repeat viewings. 8/10
Columbia Pictures, Hofflund/Polone, Indelible Pictures, Sony Pictures by David Fincher, David Koepp.
Stars: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam.
Genres: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Keywords: burglar bunker housebreaking safe money
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