review for Panic Room on AllMovie

Panic Room (2002)
by Michael Hastings review

As sleek, taut, and speedy as an expensive German automobile, David Fincher's high-concept suspense thriller finds the director at his best, and, more importantly, his most efficient, with little of the narrative muddle and character vagaries that plagued some of his previous work. Fincher has always worn his influences on his sleeve, from Hitchcock to Kubrick to Peckinpah, and while all of the above are referenced in Panic Room, the film is mostly a successful homage to the Master of Suspense himself. David Koepp's tight script allows the director to get right down to business: Once descended upon by a trio of a burglars, Jodie Foster's Meg Altman is pitted against her captors in a variety of set piece situations, each more nail-biting than the last. Though Fincher employs his usual bag of digital tricks to accentuate the spaces of Meg's lavish brownstone, the flourishes never seem gratuitous; the director doesn't forget that simple juxtapositions of glances, framings, and angles convey much more fear and dread than three-dimensional computer animation. Best of all, Koepp and Fincher have whittled the material down to its barest essentials: The characters' backstory and motivation are doled out sparingly over the course of the standoff, and never in an obvious, neon-billboard sort of way. Foster, Kristen Stewart, and particularly Forest Whitaker respond in kind, each actor turning in a visceral, nuanced performance to carry the audience through to the film's grisly end. It's rare that a thriller warrants a second viewing for character interaction instead of a tricky structure or a plot full of red herrings, and Panic Room, thankfully, is that kind of film.