Panic Room (15)

Review by Jack Foley

Like him or loathe him, David Fincher is undoubtedly one of the most exciting directors working in mainstream Hollywood today; with each new project virtually guaranteed to provoke furious debate among film fans keen to admire or criticise him.

Se7en is rightly regarded by the majority as a work of genius, but films such as The Game left audiences divided, while some critics went as far as to label Fight Club 'a Nazi piece of work' which was one of the most dangerous films to emerge from Tinseltown since Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.

His latest, Panic Room, while nowhere near as controversial, still looks set to further the debate surrounding the director's talent.
Jodie Foster stars as newly-divorced mother, Meg Altman, who, together with her diabetic daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart), moves into a posh New York apartment which comes equipped with the panic room of the title - an impenetrable chamber built as a sanctuary in the event of a home invasion.

As misfortune would have it, her home is invaded during her very first night, but while the two women make it into the chamber with seconds to spare, what the burglars really want is also lying inside.

The scenario is established in about 10 minutes, leaving viewers to sweat it out for the remainder of the time as the inevitable game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

And while the plot sounds fairly routine - and even limiting, given that it is confined to just one location - the resulting couple of hours are among the most tense you are likely to spend in the cinema this year; liberally sprinkled with that trademark Fincher black humour, a smattering of ultra-violence and, of course, the occasional twist.

There are times when the suspense in Panic Room reaches Hitchcockian proportions, while the nods to other movies are numerous; but the director is also careful to keep things fresh and exciting throughout, turning in a dizzying visual tour de force (his cameras travel through walls and ceilings at times) which only serve to heighten the tension.

And his talent for coaxing terrific performances from his leads is also in full effect, with Foster (who stepped in for Nicole Kidman at the last minute) terrific as the feisty mother, struggling to come to terms with the escalating situation.

Yet it is the villains - Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam and Forest Whitaker - who really steal the show, with the latter, in particular, walking away with the acting honours as the most conflicted and sympathetic of the trio.

Panic Room may, ultimately, be a triumph of style over substance (it has very little to say and does exactly what it says on the label) and may not aspire to the giddy heights of Fight Club or Se7en, but its entertainment value is such that fans shouldn't be disappointed. Mainstream movies this good as are all too few at the moment.