Starring: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker
Director: David Fincher
Running Time: 112 mins
Panic Room is an American film about a mother and daughter who, just after having moved into a New York City apartment, are terrorised by burglars who force them to take refuge in their home’s cramped panic room.
Although it doesn’t get off to the best of starts, Panic Room does eventually develop into a really solid home invasion thriller. It’s admittedly not a nail-biting watch throughout, but with strong performances, striking visuals and an exhilarating final act, the film is still full of thrills.
Starting off with the film’s first act, it’s fair to say that Panic Room gets off to a rather sluggish start. That’s not to say it’s tedious right from the beginning, and where it does indeed impress is in the form of good, concise character development and strong performances across the board.
However, as it attempts to build tension and a sense of danger when the home invasion begins, the film really struggles to get itself into a really exciting gear. With the exception of the initial chaos that unfolds, there’s a frustratingly stagnant dynamic between the burglars and the mother and daughter hiding in the panic room.
There’s little that makes the burglars really threatening in the first act, as they act like a bunch of bumbling buffoons no more dangerous than Harry and Marv from Home Alone. Meanwhile, Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart are holed up in a panic room with no way out, and that results in a bit of a stale standoff where nobody has the upper hand.
Compare that with Wait Until Dark – perhaps the best home invasion movie of all time – where the balance of power between the burglars and the house occupant is constantly shifting. There, we never have to sit through twenty or thirty minutes of a cagey waiting game, because the situation is poised on a knife edge that puts you on the edge of your seat.
So, for the most part, Panic Room is far from a thrilling watch in the early stages. But if you stick with it, it will be worth your while.
The story really begins to transform about halfway through, as the dynamic between the burglars themselves begins to change, leaving the door open for the mother and daughter to seize the upper hand. From there on in, the dynamic within the apartment becomes a lot more fluid, and the balance of power starts changing hands again and again.
Couple that with an immediate upturn in the pacing, and an intensifying of the violence, and Panic Room suddenly develops into the harsh yet exhilarating thriller it should have been right from the start. Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart appear genuinely scared in the latter half, and that helps you to put yourself in their shoes as well.
Meanwhile, the drama surrounding Forest Whitaker’s character adds an extra level of intrigue and emotional depth to proceedings, and although the ever-intensifying thrills of the story remain the central focus, that extra depth is really welcome when the film comes to a conclusion.
It’s fair to say that Panic Room still doesn’t fulfil its full potential as a home invasion thriller. Director David Fincher fails to utilise the apartment’s CCTV system in a particularly interesting way – leaving it as a mere communication tool instead of anything more dynamic in the story.
The early slowness of the film is frustrating, but the thrills and spills of the latter stages do make up for it for the most part. As a result, Panic Room is indeed a gripping watch, and an exhilarating one come the final act. With strong performances right the way through, as well as a plot that really comes good in the end, it’s a solid home invasion thriller, which is why I’m giving it a 7.5 overall.