“Panic Room” is a suspenseful thriller with all the potential of slipping into banality, but keeps its footing because of the talented filmmaking behind it.
In the film, Meg Altman, played wonderfully by Jodie Foster, is a recently divorced woman who moves into a Manhattan townhouse with her teenage daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart). The house’s most unique feature is a panic room, a security room that allows occupants to hide from intruders. It is elaborately set up with medical supplies, a separate phone line and a bank of surveillance monitors.
On their first night in their new home, Meg and Sarah utilize the room when three burglars break in to steal a rumored fortune hidden in the house. Meg thinks they are safe, but the fortune is located in the panic room. This situation sets off an intriguing game of strategy between Foster and Forest Whitaker, who plays one of the intruders.
The plotting is tighter than most thrillers, though it contains a few holes. There are a few “why didn’t we think of that sooner” lines that try to cover it up. But that’s no way to fix plot holes. Though the plot is cleanly constructed to set-up tensions, the moviegoer tends to ignore the plot manipulations and sit in suspense until the payoff.
But despite its defects, “Panic Room” is highly effective, mostly due to director David Fincher.
Fincher is among the best film directors of the past 10 years. He doesn’t allow style to impinge on the story and allows characters to develop, rather than just placing two-dimensional humanoids in the middle of some high concept plot. Like Hitchcock, he manipulates the audience by slight of hand, but unlike the master, he has better tools to work with.
Fincher’s latest film may not be as good as his “Seven” or “The Game,” but it is still a very suspenseful and exciting movie. The film is not as ambitious as “Fight Club,” Fincher’s best film (and one of the best films of the 1990s), but neither is the story or its message as broad.
But like his last film, Fincher uses CGI (computer generated imaging) as no one else does. In one shot, Fincher’s camera goes from the third floor down to the first, through a coffeepot’s handle, across a room and into a keyhole. Though some may see this as showing off, the shot is effective as it reveals not only the floor plan of the house, but also the close proximity of Foster and the ruthless invaders. This is the film Hitchcock would have made if he had computers.
Foster is amazing, as always. In Meg Altman she has found another strong female role, a rarity. And as with most of her strong-willed characters, Foster is able to express that strength through the character’s vulnerabilities. It is amazing that the meek woman the moviegoer is introduced to at the beginning is the same woman who outwits three goons at the end, but Foster makes her character arch believable.
Staff Writer Stephen Allan can be contacted at: [email protected]