Panic Room (15)
THE latest thriller from David Fincher, he of Seven and Fight Club fame, takes place within the claustrophobic confines of a rambling New York house as a mother and her diabetic daughter come under siege from a trio of thieves.
Taut, tense and expertly choreographed, Panic Room is a deliciously edgy story with a distinctly theatrical flavour and offers Jodie Foster the mainstream comeback she has been seeking since Maverick, eight years ago.
Foster plays Meg Altman, a thirtysomething New Yorker estranged from her wealthy husband and looking for a new home with her daughter in tow.
They happen upon a magnificent brownstone house, previously owned by a fabulously rich old man who died leaving his various relatives scrabbling over his fortune.
Meg takes it and moves in with Sarah (Kirsten Stewart). That night, three raiders enter the house intent on finding and escaping with an estimated three million dollars hidden somewhere inside. They don’t reckon on finding new owners in their beds.
When they do, and Maggie wakes, she immediately flees to the panic room – a 20th century American bolthole with enough supplies to survive for as long as it takes, separate ventilation and telephone line.
But what Maggie doesn’t know is that at least one of the bad guys knows how panic rooms work: he installs them. The others, a rich kid and an enigmatic, gun-toting heavy named Raoul, don’t care. And if Maggie and Sarah won’t come out, they’ll find a way to flush them out. Dead or alive, it doesn’t matter.
So begins a long night of desperate cat-and-mouse games, with the women on one side of a steel door and the men on the other. Who will crack first?
From the outset Fincher never allows the energy of Panic Room to diminish. The storyline rockets along at a breakneck pace, allowing just enough character development to take place before the tension is ratcheted up another notch.
No one plays barely controlled terror better than Foster, as witnessed in The Silence of the Lambs and in the rape scene at the crux of The Accused. She adopts the same level of panic here, yet always managing to keep a lid on it.
As the three villains Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam make for a marvellously fragmented trio, though they are solidly black-and-white. Leto is the disinherited rich kid. Yoakam the cold-eyed killer. Whitaker the family man ignoring his conscience to make some readies.
It is relatively easy to work out their various character traits and, consequently, their fates. The signposts are there from the moment the titles fade.
Fincher, making a great job of David Koepp’s screenplay, has once again pulled off a quirky drama that straddles the markets of mainstream and arthouse. He is blessed with Foster and Stewart, but also with Whitaker, Leto and Yoakam, all of who up the ante to screaming point.
He also makes perfect use of his limited cast – generally five people throughout the majority of the film – in what is one big interior set. The claustrophobic, therefore, is tangible – and never more so than when the two females are enclosed in the panic room.
If one was to focus on a single element though, it would be Foster’s transformation from box office poison to A-list resurrection. An actress of great versatility, Panic Room shows just what she can deliver when working with the right director.