PANIC ROOM - 2002
Hofflund/Polone /Indelible Pictures / Columbia Pictures
Rated: USA: R
I'm guessing that J.J. Abrams fell in love with the titles of this movie, which is why he lifts them for his own series, FRINGE.
Jodie Foster (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, INSIDE MAN) is Meg Altman, a recently divorced woman who has beaucoupe bucks. The kind of money that can afford the rent on a four story brownstone with its own elevator and a state-of-the-art Panic Room. What's a Panic Room you might ask? Meg does and the real estate agent lays out what a wonderful contraption it is. Should your house ever be burglarized while you are in it, simply get everyone you want into the Panic Room, seal the door, and wait for the cops to arrive, sometime around Tuesday. True, your house will be stripped bare, but you WON'T be. And that's the point of a Panic Room. Now, since this is the name of the room and the movie you'd be a fool to think that it might not be used.
A FOOL I say!
Along with Meg is her insolent and moody daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart: THE MESSENGERS, JUMPER, TWILIGHT). Kristen was only 12 in 2002 and could have easily played a boy. Until I heard the name "Sarah", I had no idea. Sarah has every right to be sullen as any kid from a broken home would: which doesn't make life easier for Meg. On the other hand, Sarah doesn't push too hard on Mom either. Both are upset with Pop, who seems to have got a divorce to snag a new trophy wife.
In the first fifteen or so minutes of PANIC ROOM, Director David Fincher (ALIEN3, SE7EN) allows the camera (and so us) to explore the house. Nothing much is going on. There is some character development and history revealed between Meg and Sarah, but I'm okay with all of this because by the title and that ever so intriguing Panic Room, I know that the clock is ticking down to something pretty wicked.
Sarah goes through the instruction manual for the Panic Room, trying to figure out all of the features, but doesn't get very far on her first night in the place.
Full of loss and betrayal, Meg decides to take a bath and get drunk before going to bed. And it is on this night, Meg and Sarah's very first night in the new place, that the burglars choose to break in.
Everything goes smoothly for the burglars. They are efficient and silent which only adds to the terror of their presence. Then one of them, Burnham (Forest Whitaker: BODY SNATCHERS, SPECIES, BATTLEFIELD EARTH, PHONE BOOTH), discovers that there are people in the house.
We quickly discover, due to a heated confrontation between Burnham and the ringleader of this group, Junior (Jared Leto: URBAN LEGEND, AMERICAN PSYCHO). Junior is just as surprised. Apparently, this is an inside job and his informant told him that no one would be moved in on this day. It should be a strictly in and out job with no witnesses. Burnham wants to pack it in and cut his losses, when Junior opens the door to reveal a third member of their group, one wearing a mask and calling himself Raoul (Dwight Yokam: THE MINUS MAN, CRANK). Raoul has a gun. For Burnham, this is as far from what he knew of the plan as he wants to get. Breaking into an empty house that belongs to no one and stealing something hidden inside doesn't really hurt anyone. But now there is the addition of a possible kidnapping and with Raoul, murder.
Junior brings him around, calms his fears, and Burnham is ready to move forward. Maybe this can be done quietly without waking anyone up. Then Meg wakes up to go to the bathroom and, before she can get back to sleep, she walks past the open door of her Panic Room. The monitors that watch the interior of the house are on and something catches her eye. To her horror, as the screens rotate among the cameras, she realizes that she and her daughter are not alone in the house.
In a terrifying moment of silent panic, Meg runs to her daughter's bedroom. The robbers, surprised by her flight and not knowing where she is going, how many are in the house, or where anyone else is sleeping, panic in turn. Choosing between flight and fight, the robbers pick fight and the chase begins.
Naturally Meg and Sarah are able to lock themselves in their Panic Room, but that is only the start of their troubles as well as the troubles of the robbers.
The screenplay by David Koepp (APARTMENT ZERO, JURASSIC PARK, THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK, STIR OF ECHOES, SPIDER-MAN, WAR OF THE WORLDS), is sharp, lean, and clean, as his scripts tend to be whenever he's not working on a Steven Speilberg movie.
Conrad W. Hall (SLEEPY HOLLOW) and Darius Khondji (SE7EN, ALIEN: RESURRECTION, IN DREAMS, THE NINTH GATE) provided the Cinematography, making good, claustrophobic use of the interior, shadows, and light. There were a lot of tight interior shots, and by that I mean shots of what's inside the walls and floors of the brownstone and the effect of smoothly gliding through walls, air, and between and around objects like a slow bird was flawless. On the other hand, Fincher was so impressed with himself that he went to the well a few too many times with this effect and it started to draw attention to itself even in the first viewing. In the space of only 112 minutes, the effect went from interesting, to cool to "cute". This may be why the Oscars ignored it (just a guess), but in my opinion, that isn't enough of a reason for you to do the same.
The flaws in PANIC ROOM are very minor and in fact, it's a brilliant film that, while not in the realm of Classic Status (5 Shriek Girls) without a doubt delivers razor sharp tension with edge of your seat suspense and thrills.
Four Shriek Girls
copyright 2008 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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