Ahhh, there’s nothing quite like the good old thrillers of the early 2000s. Well, perhaps only the good old nineties thrillers but that’s a story for a different time. Panic Room is an incredibly engaging single-location thriller that just works. Featuring just a few characters and one big-ass mansion after 15 minutes you start wondering is this it? Am I really going to watch these people run around this house and this single room for more than 90 minutes? And while you’re thinking that, you’ll start noticing just how good the camera work is. Fincher uses new technology to expand what we normally see, showing us some pretty cool perspectives. And creating space where there was none at a flip of a switch.
However, as you can imagine, that sense of claustrophobia remains throughout. What makes Panic Room such an effective thriller is its inner logic. The smarter characters make smart decisions while the dumber ones, well, you get the picture. We will be following a mother and her daughter who find themselves at the mercy of three burglars looking for millions of dollars in their newly-purchased house. You know what, fuck Requiem for a Dream or Mr. Nobody, I think this is Jared Leto’s best performance to date. Of course, veterans Forest Whitaker and Jodie Foster were also good along with young Kristen Stewart in one of her first roles.
The script, written by David Koepp (The Trigger Effect, Death Becomes Her), is lean and mean. There’s no fluff or dumb innuendo, just pulpy tension and real fucking human nature. The story also offers quite a few twists you won’t see coming. And it feels pretty realistic apart from the initial premise that two people need this huge mansion. However, you can explain that away with Meg wanting to financially hurt her ex-husband. In fact, the story feels so realistic that you might consider building a fucking panic room inside your home.
After a messy divorce, Meg and her daughter Sarah want to start a new chapter in their lives. And a swanky new apartment makes for a great start to that new chapter. After a bit of convincing, they settle on a huge mansion in New York City’s Upper West Side. The house is a bit older but it has a state-of-the-art panic room, a place where they can seek refuge if someone breaks into the house. Meg and Sarah thought nothing of it at first but in just a few hours, that panic room will be their lifeline.
I mean, we all know what’s going to go down in this movie, the only question which remains is how it’s going to go down. David Fincher is truly a masterful director, something he already proved with his nineties classics like Se7en and Fight Club. Here, he shows us that you don’t need much to generate tension and excitement. Panic Room is a simple movie that will make you seek out others like it. And your first stop should be Flightplan also starring Jodie Foster as it features a similar dynamic. However, I would like to direct your attention to two Spanish masterpieces I’ve been recommending for years now.
Sleep Tight and The Uncertain Guest both feature phenomenally good and more importantly, original stories along with loads of tension and suspense. And if you’re looking for something a bit scarier, another Spanish creative wonder Rec will be the right choice. Finally, I want to mention a couple of cool things about the production of this movie. Panic Room is, strangely enough, a classic heist gone wrong movie. Fincher wanted to shoot it in complete dark but gave up on that idea rather quickly. The scene where the bag slides into the panic room took 103 takes to film. And production crew kept finding feathers from that pillow for the next six months.
Director: David Fincher
Writer: David Koepp
Cast: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam, Patrick Bauchau
Fun Facts: Columbia Pictures paid David Koepp a record $4,000,000 for his screenplay.