IMDB Link: Panic Room (2002)
Director: David Fincher
Writer: David Koepp
Stars: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker
Synopsis: A divorced woman and her diabetic daughter take refuge in their newly-purchased house’s safe room, when three men break-in, searching for a missing fortune.
The concept for the film is incredibly simple, and easily the simplest out of Fincher’s filmography. There are few subplots that are written into this story, there is a heavy focus on the one-location and there are only a few main characters to drive the film forward. However, this is an example of Fincher showcasing how great of a director he is, by proving he can make a nearly two-hour film purely on this one story.
Firstly, Fincher and writer David Koepp set up the rules nicely for what can and can’t happen. The door to the panic room can only be set off in a specific way and only from the inside. There is no signal inside the panic room, meaning that any phone calls must come from the main line. Rules like these not only help explain why some things cannot be done, but help create a real situation.
Next, we need to talk about the performances. Casting Jodie Foster and a young Kristen Stewart as a mother and daughter is genius casting. Not only do they look quite similar here, but they are both superb actresses, especially Foster here. Panic Room was Kirsten Stewart’s second acting credit and she gives a wonderful performance, especially as a child actor. The supporting cast, particularly Forest Whitaker, is also great in this film.
Fincher makes the most of the space, making sure that every room in the house has a use. The use of the entire house also leads to building up suspense, as all of the running and sneaking up and down the place on chases leaves the audience wondering whether Jodie Foster’s character, Meg, will be able to sneak off and grab everything needed to keep herself and her daughter alive for the meantime.
The first two-thirds of this film are near perfection. Not only are the rules that are set-up followed, but there is a clear motive for the criminals to be at this location and to be doing everything that they can to enter the panic room. They make use of some items to try and break into the room, and these are not only extremely effective in a real life situation, but lead to some visually stunning moments when Meg fights them back.
The film does dip slightly in the final third, when it is clear that Fincher and Koepp do not fully know how to get out of the situation. This is when characters, particularly the criminals, start acting strange and unlike they were to begin. The situation escalates really quickly, and yet the ending lacks that satisfaction I would have liked to have felt after investing nearly two-hours into this one simple story.
Regardless of the ending though, Panic Room is a masterclass of filmmaking on a technical standpoint. It is a showcase of how to get great performances from your actors, how to build suspense using a single room and how to write a simple story that keeps the audience engaged for a long amount of time. Another solid film in Fincher’s filmography.