Panic Room


Directed by: David Fincher
Written by:David Koepp
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam
Released: April 11, 2002
Grade: C+

There’s a question I’ve often gone over in my head - “what is the most important aspect of a movie?”  I was fairly sure I knew the answer and now that I’ve seen Panic Room, I’m ready to lock in my final answer.  The script.

Aside from the script, Panic Room is a beautifully crafted picture.  Meg (Foster) is a recently divorced woman who just purchased a luxurious house in New York to make a new home with her young daughter, Sarah (Stewart).  The master bedroom has a rather unusual secret compartment known as a “panic room”.  It’s a room to hide in should the house ever be penetrated by intruders.  The room contains every resource one would need to survive as well as video cameras to monitor every room in the house and a separate telephone line to call for help.

On their very first night in the house, three burglars arrive - Burnham (Whitaker), Junior (Leto) and Raoul (Yoakam).  Believing the house to be unoccupied, they soon realise there are two residents sound asleep.  Locked in a safe within the panic room is $3m left by the house’s previous (and now deceased) owner.  Meg awakes and realising they are not alone in the house, she locks herself and Sarah in the panic room.  We now have a stalemate situation.  Meg and Sarah want out of the panic room, the burglars want to get into the panic room but neither can figure out a way to do it.  

The film is directed by David Fincher, the same creative individual who brought us Seven, The Game and the under appreciated Fight Club.  It has all Fincher’s stylings and is directed with thrilling precision.  The dual cinematography work from Conrad Hall (American Beauty) and Darius Khondji (Evita) is incredible.  Cameras go where cameras are not supposed to go and the assistance of visual effects make it all so seamless.  Cameras slide between levels of the house in a single shot and sneak down tiny holes and through narrow gaps.  How do they do it?  The open credits are really cool too - proof that computers can do almost anything.

Jodie Foster is a great actress who doesn’t usually bow to studio pressure.  This is only her third film in the last five years (Contact, Anna And The King) and you’d think a two-time Oscar winning actress would appear a lot more.  I’m sure she gets plenty of offers but being a true professional, she doesn’t work for the sake of working - she’s prepared to wait until the right script comes along.  So is this the right script?

No.  It is conventional, unoriginal and uninspiring.  The holes are so deep that you can’t even see where they end.  What am I talking about?  Here’s some frustrating plot developments that are just too difficult to believe.  Meg knows how to hot-wire a telephone.  Sarah knows Morse code.  The burglars can hear Meg cough and yet they can’t hear anything else they talk about.  The burglars come up with ridiculously inventive plans to flush Meg and Sarah out and yet are dumb enough not to deactivate the cameras.  Every character seems to be able to accurately preempt what the other will do.  I won’t go on (because I want to keep the review under 10,000 words) but the far-fetched ending is laughable and predictable.  An insult to a good thriller.  Anyone who buys it, is a sucker.

I’m disappointed by the film but even more disappointed by having it associated with David Fincher.  Fight Club was such a ground breaking effort.  Why would one of the world’s leading directors choose a screenplay that should have been used as toilet paper?  So if you’re in a hurry to believe the hype and see this film ASAP, don’t “panic” because there’s no reason to justify your attendance.