Panic Room (2002) 

Alan:

Ebert: San Francisco Examiner: TV Guide:


Warning, minor plot points revealed!

Panic Room is the new suspense thriller from one of my favorite directors, David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven.)  It stars Jodie Foster, one of the best actors in the world.  

Recently divorced or separated (?) Meg Altman (Foster) and her daughter, move into a huge New York townhouse.  One of the features of the new apartment is a Panic Room.  A completely self contained room like a safe that you can lock yourself into.  The room contains surveillance monitors, telephones, provisions for an extended stay, and all the comforts required of the paranoid.  Unfortunately, it also contains the cash estate of the former owner.  The first night after they move in they are set upon by murdering thieves intent on the hidden fortune.

The entire film takes place inside the various rooms of the vast, unfurnished  townhouse.  This affords Fincher the opportunity to do what he does best.  He creates a huge amount of tension in a dark contained environment.  

Fincher uses a camera technique that I would call "broad-scope small-scale momentum."  We've seen him use it in Fight Club and Seven.  Most sweeping cinematography involves visuals like the ones in Lord of the Rings.  Majestic landscapes as seen from the eye of a  flying bird.  What Fincher seems to do, instead, is strap a tiny camera onto the back of a cockroach.  We see tiny things made huge by panoramic close- ups while in a constant state of motion.  Instead of clean vistas of ice-capped mountains, we see the filthy rotten food and dust mounds under and behind the kitchen stove.  I get completely giddy when I see this technique used.  Unfortunately, Panic Room doesn't use it enough. 

One of the problems with a movie that basically takes place in one location, is that it really needs to make the most of it.  The cast is important and the script must be excellent.  The cast of Panic Room does fine but the suspense is not sustained.  This film is more like The Game, an earlier work of Fincher that had a great idea but fell short. 

Panic Room is a great movie, and I highly recommend it.  It was less than I expected, but perhaps, I ask too much.