Knowing that PANIC ROOM is directed by SE7EN's David Fincher is enough to panic
most viewers before they even enter the theater. The anticipation of gruesome
acts is usually scarier than the actual carnage. In an intriguing opening title
sequence, the cameras pan about New York City's skyscrapers with frightening
panache as if each edifice holds some hideous secret. To add to the
disorienting effect of floating amongst the large buildings, the 3D titles are
set at odd angles as if they are permanently mounted in thin air. To complete
the horrific ambiance, the deep bass music by Howard Shore (THE LORD OF THE
RINGS) warns us that terror will soon be at hand.
The story by David Koepp (STIR OF ECHOES) concerns Meg Altman (Jodie Foster), a
recently divorced woman, and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart). With nerdy
black glasses, Meg appears a proper mom, and diabetic Sarah has a typical teen's
slightly rebellious streak. Quite well off, thanks to her husband's fortune,
Meg is in the process of buying a large brownstone in NYC's fashionable upper
west side. The house has a special "panic room," which is modeled on similar
impenetrable rooms in medieval castles. This one has walls made of steel and
concrete, as well as its own ventilation and phone system. There is even a bank
of video monitors that watch over every nook and cranny of the house.
You guessed it. Burglars show up and try to break into the panic room while Meg
and Sarah hide inside. The criminals consists of Burnham (Forest Whitaker), the
brainy but compassionate leader, Junior (Jared Leto), the dim witted inside man,
and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), the explosively violent assistant. Their actions are
as predictable as a Disney cartoon.
It is inside the padded cell where the movie sizzles, not in the rest of the
house. "What are we doing?" Sarah asks her mom at one point in the battle. "I
have no idea," Meg replies. Meg is too modest. She may be a bit claustrophobic
-- Who wouldn't be under such circumstances? -- but she is ingenuity on wheels.
No matter what the bad guys throw at her, she figures out an imaginative
counteraction. The movie itself runs short of new ideas after a while and
dissolves into a tale of who can hurt whom the most. Still, it is a satisfying
The best part of the movie turns out to be the tour de force camerawork by
Conrad W. Hall. His tracking shots, which seem to have been filmed from the
back of a fast moving bird let loose in the house, will leave you wondering,
"How did he shoot that?"
PANIC ROOM runs 1:52. It is rated R for "violence and language" and would be
acceptable for most teenagers.
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes