REVIEW: Panic Room

Panic Room has the odd combination of being extremely visually appealing, even in an artsy way, and being full of B-movie clichés. The film  is thoroughly mediocre despite the ensemble cast including Jodie Foster, Jared Leto, and Forrest Whitaker, the script from the talented David Koepp (Spider-Man, Ghost Town, Jurassic Park), and the reliable director, David Fincher.  The story, as of Koepp scripts, is a rather small-scale story that takes place over a short period of time; this is unique in the filmography of David Fincher, but not necessarily a problem. The problem is that we are given nothing but cliché reasons to actually care about these characters and a rather vague explanation of why there is money. And the money isn’t really relevant to the protagonists either.

What we’re left with is essentially a hitchcockian B-movie on steroids. It’s a big budget compilation of used ideas set up in a clever layout that is rather entertaining, but largely cold. Without much empathy for mother-daughter who are trapped, a sense of detachment occurs. Foster and Stewart are talented, but they aren’t characters so much as faces to fill the void of the plot’s predicament. We connect more with the antagonists, or at least two of them, who are much more interesting. Let’s just say that Clarice and Bella will likely be remembered for other roles.

Panic Room is certainly entertaining though; each scene in which Foster dares to leave the safety sone is expertly crafted, as is the communication between the robbers and the captives. Even the opening credits amuse me, but what really sticks out in this film is Conrad Hall’s and Darius Khonji’s work behind the camera. As a director and cinematographers, Fincher and Hall/Khondji made the most the single location they had to work with. Each room is shot in every possible angle. One great moment of the film consists of nothing but the camera silently creeping over the railing and descending to the floor level of the house. My personal favorite shot sends the camera straight from one end of the house to another, through a coffee maker handle. The camera also takes us through exhaust pipes, locks, and walls. Panic Room is about as visual as it possibly could be and that is certainly to its credit.

As passable entertainment, Panic Room will certainly hold you in suspense; it can withstand its runtime, but only barely. It lacks a few steps to push it in any original direction. It needed another twist, something to give it meaning, or at least give its protagonists meaning. Instead it runs with one idea and blows it out of proportion. The extent at which these criminals do not abandon their quest is rather absurd. Literally, they give up at nothing. They even use explosives to burn up large parts of the interior, to no avail.

Ultimately, I am just not convinced that a house so well wired could be cut off so easily, even by the designer, who apparently didn’t earn enough money to make a living by designing an advanced security system. One wire cut and they appear to be isolated.

But more importantly, I’m not convinced by the characters, at least not enough to really care. Panic Room is not a disastrous film by any stretch, one that falls significantly short next to the rest of Fincher’s work, but if you are seeking a thrill a notch above average, take a look and watch the cinematography.

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