By Marc S. Sanders
There are few films I come across where a phone call to 911 is immediately put on hold. There are few films I come across where the one in danger has an opportunity to speak face to face with a policeman while the burglars factually can not hear, and will still not relay that she, her daughter and her ex-husband are in danger. There are few films. Just a few. David Fincher’s stupid excuse for a cat and mouse thriller known as Panic Room is one of those few films.
I can forgive loopholes on occasion for the sake of maintaining suspense and to simply have a complete movie. I can not forgive it here however. Opportunities open up easily for Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart to take an upper hand. Equally so, moments open up for the bad guys as well, played ineptly by Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakum and Jared Leto. The game of outsmarting you might find depicted in Home Alone is more sensible than David Koepp’s mindless script.
The three bad guys break into a home equipped with a sealed panic room. As they get in, Foster and Stuart make it into the secure area before being taken captive.
Fincher does great camera work within a 3 story New York brownstone. He can capture in a single shot a close up of a breathless Foster in one half of the screen while a menacing figure walks covertly down an adjacent hallway on the other half. The labyrinth of the house looks good in darks and midnight blues. That’s where the attributes of Panic Room stop, however.
Everything else is controlled by manufactured contrivances offered up by Koepp’s script. Security cameras can be smashed while it just so happens that the thieves are not watching the monitors. When the electronic door to the room is opened, no one will hear a thing until a lamp topples over. You don’t even here the buzzing or slam of the steel plated door. You can also sneak around the wooden floors and will not be heard until Koepp’s writing and Fincher’s direction allow it. Otherwise these old floors will creak and echo. I talk often about how the environment in a film is a character in and of itself, like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Well if this brownstone is giving a performance in this film, then it dropped a line, came in too early, came in too late and missed a dozen cues during its performance.
Policemen will come to the door and nary insist on coming inside the home, where a dead body lay as well as a wounded hostage and various wreckage is strewn about. Foster knows the bad guys can’t hear a conversation while they are in the panic room, but she will still not share the fact that she’s in peril. Why????
Most infuriating is that 911 will take an emergency call and put her on hold. That’s where I checked out. Nothing else mattered.
Panic Room is beyond intelligence in so many ways.
Oh yeah, also there are no neighbors within an adjacent neighborhood of brownstones that ever hear the commotion at hand.
My colleague Miguel might say, “well then you’d never have a movie.” My reply is Panic Room doesn’t seem like it ever was a movie to begin with.