3/4 of the way to creepy
**This review may contain spoilers**
Where to begin? This film has a lot of great things going for it. Near the top has to be Jodi Foster. Her chacter Meg is deftly played and quite believable.
First, the setup. Meg and her daughter Sarah are finding their first home after splitting with their pharmaceutical tycoon father. The cavernous "townstone" (built between the age of the brownstone and the townhouse) is too good of an opportunity to pass up. The townstone's previous owner was a financial tycoon and apparent agrophobe. He had a fortress suspended in the middle of the house with enough steel and concrete to ensure that no one could get in. Unfortunately, the secret is not kept secret and two would be cons and a third more serious criminal assault the house in search of fortune.
The cast is well chosen. This is not an ensemble drama - there are barely more than 10 people in this movie. So each person has to carry a lot of weight. Foster, again, is great as Meg. The choice of her daughter is an example of the vast and wide casting call. The young girl looks so much like Foster. Dwight Yokham (sp?) is creepy. And Forrest Whittaker nearly steals this movie with the moral acrobatics his character goes through.
Visually, Fincher has a very unique style. His lighting and palettes are taught and consistent. He makes use of many things commonly thought to be trademarks of Hitchcock. He also continues some of the stylings from Fight Club. There are a few shots that look like a combination of DePalma's record length no cut opening for Snake Eyes and the exploding layers special effect made popular in CSI (CBS Television). Before the computer, filmmakers were forced to innovate - shot selections, stedi-cams, and acid washes for color tinting. Today, everything is done on the computer and the technology is not secretive or exclusive. What took Pixar three years to come up with is now on a PC and available to the makers of Jimmy Neutron. Similarly, it's hard to know who invents anything anymore - with release schedules being manipulated to produce maximum profit, I don't know if these long shots are invented by Fincher, or simply produced with some combination of mouse and algorithim. In the end, it does matter. Having seen the camera that travels around the house and through keyholes into closed door rooms feels familiar, and the movie begins to feel familiar too.
The film spends too much time in Special Effects. Everyone knows you wouldn't have an alarm system with visible green beams and that fire is not a consistent hue (in this case, propane blue), but these "touches" are added to the film and force fed to the audience.
There are probably too many hints. The walking tour of the building as a device to get the viewer familiar with the panic room and the house is convenient, but believable. The setup conversation between Meg and her agent (?) is less believable and more foreshadowing. The real estate agent who demonstrates the sensors in the door is obviously not pointing out the safety features. The long, deliberate shots of the cell phone are too early in the film. I'm not sure how I would have handled these differently. Fincher could have used Meg for flashback sequences where she struggled to remember the events of the day, or he could thrown in some red herrings. Instead, we are led down a path where the answers are already given to us. It's sort of like taking a test when someone gives all the questions ahead of time.
This film has brillant tension for the first half of the movie. The long continuous shots combined with the quick edits cutting between the protagonists set this film on edge. I was firmly entrenched in the game of cat and mouse & mouse and cat. But in the end, it sadly falls to the modern foible of looking like to many other movies. There's not much new in this game of chess. A few pieces are sacrificed and the board never starts with equal sides, but as the viewer, we know the ultimate outcome. We know Meg and Sarah will survive. If Panic Room is our dominatrix, we know that our time is up in only an hour and a half and any lasting terror will be shed by then. That's too bad. I doubt this movie would be successful as a classic tragedy where Meg and Sarah would not survive. It certainly would have been a different spin on the tale.
Special props to the group responsible for the films opening credits and titles. The first few scenes caught me by surprise they are so perfectly executed. Inventive and classic at the same time.
Look for former Bongwater front woman, Anne Magnuson, as Meg's agent. Also, the voice on the husband's phone is that of Nicole Kidman who had to turn the role of Meg down from injuries sustained during Moulin Rouge. An interesting flip flop would be Kidman in Panic Room and Foster in The Others.
Special notes about the DVD: I bought the SuperBit version by accident. I don't know much about SuperBit, but I do know that Sony plays its own version of Microsoft's "embrace and extend". The DVD played fine in my house - not a Sony DVD. I don't know if the SuperBit version is different than any other version, but I'd have to say I was actually disappointed in the lack of DVD features. Recently, the Onion ran a bit about how awful the film commentary tracks are and how useless they are in most disposable movies. I'd have to agree; however, I really wanted to see how they made some of the scenes and I think it would be fascinating to hear Fincher talk about the movie. Those sorts of features aren't available on the SuperBit version. If you get a different version and it has other features, start a discussion thread for this review.
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