After recently revisiting David Fincher’s ‘Se7en’ and reveling in its pure brilliance, I made the decision to investigate some of his other works that I hadn’t already seen. I had enjoyed blockbuster hits like ‘Fight Club’, ‘Gone Girl’ and the slightly less high-profile ‘Zodiac’, but a film I hadn’t seen was the 2002 release, ‘Panic Room’. With a portfolio of such impressive films to his name, I can be forgiven for expecting great things from this movie as well, and I was hopeful that ‘Panic Room’ would cement Fincher’s reputation in my mind as one of the best directors currently working in the industry.
The film has probably one of the more basic plots your could come across. Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) has recently divorced from her husband, Stephen (Patrick Bauchau), and decides to move away to New York with her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart). When being shown around their potential new house, they are shown a panic room attached to the master bedroom, and this is an inclusion that Meg is somewhat uneasy about. Despite her reservations, she agrees to buy the house and mother and daughter soon find themselves settling in to their new home. However, during the first night at their new abode, a trio of robbers, Burnham (Forest Whittaker), Junior (Jared Leto) and Raoul (Dwight Yoakman), break in. Meg and Sarah must quickly take refuge inside the aforementioned, impenetrable panic room – decked out with CCTV, external phone line and enough food and water to survive. The problem is, what the three men are looking for is also safely locked away inside the panic room.
With such a simple and linear plot, the performances have a pretty large influence as to whether this film is good or not, and thankfully they are a positive aspect, to an extent. Jodie Foster is very convincing in the lead role, albeit slightly frustrating at times. She instills a fear that feels real but her actions infuriated me a bit. Both her and Kristen Stewart, who is decent but not as convincing as her on screen mother, are guilty of ridiculous actions given their situation. At times, I found myself shouting at the screen “WHY ON EARTH WOULD ANYONE EVER DO THAT?!”, utterly exasperated by the reckless decisions of the protagonists. The supporting performances were good on the whole, but again frustrated me in places. Jared Leto’s character was the definition of a “loose cannon” and needed to learn the “engage brain before opening mouth” lesson. Yoakman’s character was a more ruthless individual and of the three he was the most fear-instilling, but he was unfortunately very much third-fiddle, if you like. Forest Whittaker’s character takes a less brutal approach and whilst his was probably the most convincing of the three supporting performances, his character actually embodies a lot of the issues I had with the film.
It simply wasn’t intense enough. At no point in the film was I on the edge of my seat, biting my nails, peering out from behind the sofa or whatever proverbial phrase you want to insert here. I didn’t feel that same terror that Meg and Sarah were obviously experiencing, and I would attribute that to a couple of things. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the characterisation prohibited that fear-inducing factor; the protagonists’ actions verged on moronic at times and the three intruders were rather timid. There are certainly points of tension and drama, but on the whole I just felt like the plot was a bit aimless and lacked direction. A lot of the tension was achieved through the lighting and the set. As a film set completely in one house, be it a horror film or a drama/action like this, there are countless dark and narrow corridors to instill a sense of disorientation, confusion and expectation in the audience.
As a result, I’d probably say that ‘Panic Room’ was underwhelming, but mostly as a result of my expectations of a David Fincher film. A simple premise that had potential, but was unfortunately somewhat foiled by its own characters, which was all the more disappointing given the acting talent on offer. Every one of the main actors and actresses played their role adequately, but their roles were flawed and that’s why, for me anyway, ‘Panic Room’ was a missed opportunity and a slight blot on Fincher’s record. Despite what I’ve said in this review, I don’t want you to be put off watching this film if you haven’t already. It’s certainly nowhere near the realms of being a bad film, but annoyingly it’s not really that good either.
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart. Forest Whittaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakman