Remember that movie where the kid is alone in his house and burglars break in, and he builds all these traps to foil the burglars’ plan? Director David Fincher probably remembers the movie, and while his new film Panic Room does revolve around a similar cat-and-mouse plot, Fincher would probably die if he read a review comparing the two. Panic Room, thankfully, is nothing like that childish blockbuster from the early ’90s.
Panic Room is Fincher’s much anticipated film following his cult hit Fight Club. The film stars Jodie Foster as a divorced mother who purchases a luxurious brownstone house in Manhattan. During her tour of the home, Foster stumbles upon a secret room dubbed “panic room.” The room employs steel walls, a separate phone line, a separate ventilation system and surveillance monitors for the sole purpose of keeping intruders out.
Fincher wastes no time on setup, introducing the characters succinctly and rapidly before plunging into the action. On the first night in the new house, three burglars, played by Forrest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yokam threaten Foster and her daughter.
Foster and her daughter are soon trapped inside the panic room, forced to watch as the burglars attempt to battle their way into the room. While the burglars devise ways to break into the panic room, Foster and her daughter attempt to find a way out.
Fans of Fincher’s movies know what cinematic elements to expect in Panic Room. Aside from the opening and closing scenes, the entire film occurs at night, shrouded in darkness. Characters move in and out of shadows, using them to their advantages during the intense chase. The low-key lighting elevates the suspense of the film.
Panic Room builds on its suspense. For more than half of the film, Foster and her daughter are confined inside the room. Every attempt to break in or out of the room brings another problem to overcome.
Fincher also supplies subtle elements that foreshadow later intricacies of the plot. We are never told outright the motives of the characters, but we can infer a lot from a few lines of dialogue or a quick reaction shot from a character. This element helps the film succeed in keeping audiences on the edge of their seats.
Ironically enough, it is the burglars who manage to engage the audience more than the protagonist. Whitaker’s character has a kind disposition, and audiences come to empathize most with his character, almost hoping that he gets away with the crime. Leto creates a love-hate relationship with the audience. He is an evil and violent man, but the viewer cannot help but laugh at his humorous actions.
The film comes apart a bit towards the end, relying too much on violence and action than on the quirky nature of its plot. Audiences can already tell the film’s outcome by the time it ends, and watching the two sides fight to get in and out of the panic room is more engaging than enjoying the films outcome.
Overall, Fincher has created a nail-biting thriller that takes a typical cat-and-mouse plot and adds a unique element that makes the film work. The performances are good and the visuals are astounding. Panic Room will make you dread the next time you yourself are home alone. And in this film, there’s no bratty kid flinging paint cans down staircases to ruin the suspense.