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Panic Room (2002)

You can hide but you can’t run

Directed by:

David Fincher

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 107 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Director David Fincher has shown in the past, with such projects as “Seven” and “Fight Club”, that he knows what buttons to press to make his audiences wriggle. Perhaps that's the problem. Perhaps that's why “Panic Room” often looks little more than a thriller-by-numbers, following a tried and tested formula that seems to be in serious danger of going stale.

Jodie Foster is Meg, the divorced wife of a pharmaceuticals tsar who decides to move into a giant four-storey New York home with grumpy know-it-all daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart). The special thing about the house, apart from being creepy with a capital C and inexplicably bathed in a constant green light, is that it has a panic room – an impenetrable closet-space in which to hide from any passing baddies.

Surprise surprise, it's only their first night in the house when just such a gang of crims arrive on the scene in the form of Burnham (Forest Whitaker), Junior (Jared Leto) and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam). Crouched inside the super-expensive panic room facility, Meg and Sarah must be left wondering why the previous owner didn't put some of that investment into making the house a little less easy to break into in the first place. The house's predecessor did leave one remnant of his occupancy though – a multi-million dollar bounty, which just happens to be what our three ne'er-do-wells are after. And where is the prize hidden? That's right – it's beside our quivering heroines in the panic room.

Foster's her usual reliable self and Whitaker does a decent enough job as the “nice” one among the villains – although he can't be all that nice, bearing in mind that he's just broken into someone else's house. Yoakam, meanwhile, does little more than wave his gun around and scream incomprehensibly like the token mentalist he's been hired to play.

Much like “Phone Booth”, it's a gimmicky venture set in an enclosed space, seeming like a good idea in theory but never really delivering the goods. Plot-holes aren't hard to come by either: Meg phones 911 and gets put on hold – what kind of “emergency” service is that?! And when later given an opportunity to signal her distress to a visiting cop, she does nothing.

Essentially, “Panic Room” comes across as a misguided attempt to make a serious thriller version of “Home Alone”. It might succeed in being more serious than the Macauley Culkin outing, but it certainly doesn't succeed in being better.

It's Got: Over-bearing direction and a serious lack of genuine thrills.

It Needs: Someone to exchange the green light bulb for a normal one.

DVD Extras Director & cast filmographies and a not-very-interesting Panic Room teaser. DVD Extras Rating: 3/10

Alternatives:

Pacific Heights, Phone Booth

Summary

A disappointing exercise in formulaic tension from a director who just seems to be trying far too hard.

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