David Fincher’s “Panic Room” isn’t a thriller I’d call classic or even groundbreaking, but it takes a unique twist on the home invasion formula, and allows his protagonists a plot device that’s both an advantage and a weakness to them. Jodie Foster is very good as divorcee Meg Altman, a woman who has just gone through a bitter break up. After moving in to a large four story brownstone in the middle of New York, Meg and daughter Sarah are told their apartment has a foolproof panic room, which was installed by the previous owner. After moving in and preparing for a new life, three robbers break in and are shocked to discover Meg and daughter Sarah have already moved in.
Forced to go through with their plans, they begin looking for the previous owner’s fortune of bearer bonds which are worth literal millions. When Meg realizes her house has been broke in to, she flees with daughter Sarah in to the panic room. Sadly, the panic room is where the fortune is being hidden. The robbers now want in to the panic room to get the bonds, while Meg realizes her time is running out as diabetic Sarah is running low blood sugar and could lapse in to a seizure very soon. It quickly becomes a battle of wills and wits, as Meg looks for every possible function to contact the outside world from within the panic room, which works against the function of the room itself.
“Panic Room” is beautifully cast, with Foster and young Kristen Stewart playing well off of one another, and offering a dynamic that’s touching and compelling. Sarah is the edgier version of her mother hindered by her disease, and Meg has to become smarter over a matter of hours to ensure the safety of her daughter. Meanwhile the trio of thieves is at odds with one another from the moment we meet them since they have their own ulterior motive for this break in, including new accomplice Raoul, who is a very shifty and psychotic ally who is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure they claim the fortune in the panic room. Fincher is able to derive some solid excitement from the battle that ensues from within and out of the panic room.
This includes a lot of strategic planning involving a disconnected land line, and signals with a flash light, as well as an ultimately failed attempt to gas both women and lure them out of the room. Sadly, Fincher’s film runs out of steam once the cat and mouse game ends, transforming in to another pretty ho hum home invasion thriller with co-star Forrest Whitaker and Dwight Yoakam doing their best to keep the pacing and suspense sharp. Either way, “Panic Room” is very competently directed, well acted, and garners a neat gimmick that embraces the fact that it’s a one and done premise, with no real efforts at a follow up or reboot.
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