FINCHERFEST: Panic Room

28 09 2010

Fincher moved onto a more Hollywood-friendly thriller in 2002 after “Fight Club” was a pretty risky studio gamble that didn’t fully pay off in the short run.  “Panic Room” was a financial success and was fairly well-received by critics.

I think that “Panic Room” is fantastic and totally unfairly derided.

Most people tend to think of it as Fincher’s ugly stepchild (when you don’t count “Alien 3,” of course) and write it off because it lacks the style of a “Seven” or a “Fight Club.”  But for what it’s worth, “Panic Room” could have been a terrible movie in the hands of a lesser director.  With the help of a good editor, such direction could make the movie an hour and twenty minutes.

But the movie succeeds because Fincher resists the temptation to give into horror filmmaking clichés.  Sure, this isn’t a highly original concept, yet it works because he treats it with reverence and respect like he would for any other movie.  While the atmosphere of terror isn’t exactly profound, it is genuinely terrifying because the idea governing it is scary.  We all consider our home a haven, a place where no one can get at us.  Thinking that someone could violate that sense of tranquility is unsettling indeed.

Fincher takes his time sweet time with the movie, and the slow, deliberate pacing just makes the tension all the more taut.  His utilization of subtle scoring and lavish cinematography sets a really eerie aura in the New York City townhouse of Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her diabetic daughter (a classic 12-year-old Kristen Stewart caught in an awkward phase).  The plot doesn’t get much more complicated than a mother and daughter trapped inside their panic room when three robbers invade their home.

There’s a little bit of typical shenanigans with everything that can go wrong going south, but “Panic Room” still holds us in its grip because of the very real and palpable terror.  The closed-in claustrophobic sense is exactly what drew Fincher to the movie; according to him, “[he] wanted to make what Coppola called ‘a composed movie’.”  For those not willing to look deeper into the artistic darkness of “Seven,” this is Fincher’s pitch-perfect filmmaking at its most accessible.

And if nothing, the movie did manage to add a new phrase to the English jargon.  Because let’s be honest, who actually knew what a “panic room” was before 2002 and could pepper it into conversation?

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One response

2 10 2010
Frank Mengarelli

I agree with you 100% about this film. It gets a bum wrap by a lot of people. I think Foster and the rest of the cast brought their A game to this. I mean, I saw it in theaters.

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