FOSTER and daughter escape intruders in lift.
photo: Courtesy of Itafilm
Running time: 108 min
Starring: Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto, Kristen Stewart
Directed by: David Fincher
Rating: 3 out of 10
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PANIC Room (2002) is a would-be thriller about people spending their first night in a new house. It purports to show what happens when fears, paranoia and nightmares become true. But despite its attractive visual images the film is scuppered by a lack of inspiration, clichés and a predictable ending.
Divorced from a rich businessman, Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) buys an expensive house in New York's Upper West Side. The house used to be inhabited by a deceased millionaire whose fear of being murdered led him to build a 'panic room', a high-tech shelter with a thick steel door, alarms and surveillance monitors.
The nightmare begins the first day Meg and her diabetic daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) move in. Falling asleep after spending a day unpacking their belongings, they are soon awoken by three burglars invading the house in search of millions of dollars left there by the late eccentric owner. The new tenants hastily lock themselves into the panic room, not knowing that what the burglars want is right in that room, and that they will use all means to get it.
The story itself is cheap stuff. Screenplay writer David Koepp obviously chose the easiest way to a quick buck, providing a lot of violence and blood rather than elaborating on the psychological aspects of two people hiding from attackers in a tiny room.
Even the casting cannot rescue such a badly written screenplay. Foster is only a shadow of FBI detective Clarice Starling in the unforgettable thriller The Silence of the Lambs (directed by Jonathan Demme in 1991). Even with the help of digital and video images, no actor can mend the holes in the plot and generate credible tension between victims and intruders, tension that Foster so memorably achieved with pathological killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Her contribution to Panic Room is best forgotten.
If anything deserves being remembered it is the visual effects by David Fincher (Seven, 1995, The Game, 1997). The camera, swiftly moving through walls, zooming up on fascinating details, is the movie's best tool to illustrate the claustrophobia people suffer in a room besieged by murderous enemies. But it's not enough to sustain interest for two hours, far less to justify the cost of a movie ticket.