Published Dec 01, 2002There is no doubting the expectations placed upon David Fincher at the moment. However, after successful, stylistic and inventive offerings such as Fight Club and Seven, Fincher may have raised the bar too high for his follow-up work, and such is the case with Panic Room. Panic Room is a beautifully shot, well acted, dark movie with an intriguing central idea that unfortunately adds up to less than the sum of its parts, much like Fincher's efforts with The Game, which, like Panic Room, loses itself to style instead of substance.
The always strong Jodie Foster plays Meg Altman, a recently divorced, slightly alcoholic single mother who, along with her diabetic teenage daughter Sarah (played by Kristen Stewart), move into a sprawling downtown New York Brownstone, equipped by its paranoid previous owner with a "panic room." The panic room, an impenetrable vault-like bunker is immediately put to the test as a trio of thieves invade, featuring the typecast Forrest Whitaker as the "good man forced into bad choices" thief and Dwight Yoakam working his most malevolent Kevin Spacey impersonation.
Unfortunately for Meg and Sarah, what the cadre of rogues wants is in the panic room, where the two have now sealed themselves, incidentally without Sarah's insulin or a working phone but with Meg's claustrophobia (a sub-plot quickly discarded). What follows is an hour-an-a-half cat and mouse battle with a number of role reversals and twists. While touted as a psychological thriller, the viewer never really forms a connection with the main characters, nor feels that sense of dread that they are in mortal danger. Also lacking is the overwhelming sense of claustrophobia so necessary to sell the trapped and desperate aesthetic Fincher is striving to convey. However, Fincher gets good performances from some great actors and employs a number of amazing looking swooping CGI shots that dissolve through rooms, objects and floors. And while Fincher's opaque, under-lit, striking style is palpable throughout Panic Room, its predictability and one-trick pony plot, after all, it's called Panic Room, fail to reach the quality of movie that Fincher is capable of delivering.