Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Panic Room

MPAA Rating: R for violence and language

Reviewed by: Dr. Kenneth R. Morefield

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Thriller
Length:
_____
Year of Release:
2002
Jodi Foster in “Panic Room” Jared Leto and Forest Whitaker in “Panic Room”

Starring: Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto, Kristen Stewart | Directed by: David Fincher | Produced by: Gavin Polone, Judy Hofflund, David Koepp, Cean Chaffin | Written by: David Koepp, Andrew Kevin Walker, Gavin Polone | Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter (Kristen Stewart) take refuge from burglars in their house’s impenetrable safe room in “Panic Room”. I am reminded here of “Ocean’s 11”. Both are essentially B-movie projects which attracted star directors (in this case, David Fincher) and, as a result, A-list casts. The plot of the film is pretty bare bones, witnessed by the fact that we know essentially nothing about Meg Altman and her daughter before the premise is set in motion. Meg has just gone through a divorce. She is apparently mildly claustrophobic and her daughter is diabetic. Normally films that give so little to character development usually bore me because they violate Morefield’s maxim: I can’t care about what happens to a character unless I care about the character. Foster gives Meg enough presence, though, that I did care, at least enough to stay interested.

Forest Whitaker plays Burnham, one of the three crooks, and oddly enough we learn more about him than we do about Meg and her daughter. This leads to oddly mixed sympathies. We certainly don’t want Meg to get hurt, but we are supposed to not mind if Burnham gets away. The ambiguity between sympathetic and villainous is one that director Fincher has explored in “Alien 3,” “The Game,” and “Fight Club,” and the theme is particularly interesting here given the ending. Fincher and writer David Koepp seem smart and subtle enough to underplay Burnham’s conflict. Although there are certain things he does not want to see happen or to do himself (including harming the daughter), he is willing to risk them happening in pursuit of the money.

The second essential element of action/suspense films, besides character development, is intelligence. “Panic Room” is above average here. The story progresses fairly neatly as a result of actions set in motion. There aren’t too many examples of someone doing something for no reason, although there are a few examples of people not thinking to do something. There are a few noticeable omissions here—such as the criminals failing to cover up the cameras, thus allowing Meg and her daughter to watch their every move—but at least the protagonists don’t needlessly endanger themselves as happens in many horror movies.

There are two strong social subtexts running through panic room. Burnham is black, and his collaborator makes the point of saying that although he “wants” the money, Burnham “needs” it. This dynamic, combined with Burnham’s eschewing of violence seems to reinforce a class reading of the film. The panic room itself is mentioned early in the film as being an adaptation from medieval times and can be read as a metaphor for the ways in which the larger society excludes the lower class. The other motif is, of course, gender. Meg and her daughter are barricaded by three men. The ugly nature of Meg’s divorce is underscored after she is able to contact her ex-husband from the panic room. He won’t do anything, the daughter insists, “she won’t let him.” The fine home, provided presumably by alimony, is no substitute for the abandoned relationship. When the husband finally does appear, only to be brutally beaten in front of Meg’s cameras, she can only give a primal scream. His demeanor towards his ex-wife remains hostile and his final (failed, of course) showdown with one of the intruders, is filled with irony. When he insists the intruder let his “daughter” go, the ultimatum is hollow given the fact that he, himself let her go in the divorce.

“Panic Room” is an above average suspense thriller that benefits from Fincher’s increasingly sure direction. He has one virtuoso tracking shot and uses filtering and slow motion to give the scenery a cool feeling that raises the tension. It is not a particularly deep film, but it does have more going for it than explosions and gory fights.

Editor’s note: objectionable content includes over 60 uses of the “f” word and other potentially offensive language, including God’s name in vain over a dozen times. Foster is shown throughout the film in revealing attire, though there is no sex or nudity.

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”

”But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Luke 12:18-20).

Viewer Comments
Negative—Panic Room promised to be a good movie. Filmed mainly in one house, starring Jodie Foster, a dark storyline in an even darker environment, this had all the makings for a great thriller. In the hands of someone like Hitchcock it would have been fantastic but I should have guessed at what kind of film it would be from the director of the truly atrocious Fight Club! Yes, the story was quiet decent as was most of the acting, and there was some filming and angles that just blew my mind. The problem was that the film was just too violent. You see graphically a man burnt in an explosion, a head shooting, a man being kicked around as if he were a pinata, one of the villains gets hit on the head with a huge mallet etc. And as for the language. I’m not a prude, I can watch virtually anything and if swearing and violence is in context with the films theme, ie Saving Private Ryan, then it’s somewhat acceptable. But PR has enough swearing and of such a variety that it would make Andrew Dice Clay blush.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3]
—Christian St, John, age 30
Neutral—Not the best as far as thrillers go, but there are many tense moments. I was most interested in Forest Whittaker’s character. His character was not a career criminal; he was basically a good man who made a bad decision to solve his problems (robbery to make child support payments). The other characters were the types normally seen in this type of genre: the parent protecting a child, psycho criminals, etc. I didn’t think Foster’s outfits were that revealing; as her character was sleeping when the main events began, it would have been odd for her to be in street clothes. Not as much violence as one would expect, but this is not a film for small kids.
My Ratings: [Average / 3]
—Hillari Hunter, age 40
Positive—What a wonder. Some would say that a film taking place in virtually one house (also filmed that way as well!) would be dull and unengaging. Not true, for David Fincher’s “Panic Room” is a true thriller with Hitchcockian roots. If not for the frequent, annoying profanity, this film would be one of the most exciting and well made thrillers in the past ten years. Jodie Foster is compelling, as is Forest Whittaker. The other two villains (Leto and Yokum) are truly scary in a funny sort of way. If you are over 18, this is one “room” to get trapped in!
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4½]
—Dan, age 18
Positive—Panic Room was a very engaging movie that literally kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Jodie Foster’s performance was outstanding, and the screenwriting kept the plot moving without telegraphing what was about to happen. A fair amount of warning goes along with this positive review, however. There is very strong language and some violence, but I truly didn’t feel either was extreme for the situation and the nature of the characters. I went into the movie expecting some rough language so it was not a surprise. The violent parts are filmed in such a way that you realize what is happening, but the camera cuts before you actually see it. I do respectfully disagree with the reviewer on one key area: I do not feel that the ex-husband’s “demeanor towards the ex-wife remains hostile,” since he knew something was wrong and, over the objections of his new wife, went to his ex’s home in the middle of the night to help. When the ex-husband tells the robber to let his daughter go, it’s because the robber is holding only his daughter—his ex-wife isn’t in the room! I don’t want to give the plot away but he knows where his wife is at the time and what she is doing and he is going along with it. Also, the Jodie Foster’s characters “revealing clothing” is pajamas-full length flannel pants and a top that has spaghetti-type straps, no sleeves. The only time this becomes even remotely baring is when she is reaching for something in the panic room and bends over to get it. I didn’t feel that the filmmakers deliberately used this in a suggestive way. There are a few minor plot holes, but they do nothing to detract from the nail-biting story. I would recommend this movie to my adult friends, obviously not to children. It is a scary, well made movie!
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Tonia, age 32
Negative—The suspense was good. The premise, like so many films, held great promise. Overall, I was very disappointed in it. The language would make a sailor blush. The violence was bad. This is not a film for children of any age! You might consider catching this one on TV bleeped out, though. The suspense makes it worth watching. There was a good story writer behind the screenplay, but the language cancels out the positive aspects of the film.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 3]
—Dallas, age 19
Neutral—This movie was a fairly suspenseful and entertaining movie but I found myself thinking afterwards that the whole premise of the movie was kind of dumb. Criminals break into a home and find it occupied by a mother and daughter (it was supposed to be vacant). Rather than leave before being seen, the criminals decide to go through with the plan and hope the people don’t get in the way (it’s a VERY large house, they’re already prepared, there are only 2 females to worry about, etc.). They could have come back when it was empty, but then we wouldn’t have a movie, would we! Regarding the language, you expect the criminals to use f-words, but when a preteen daughter uses them in front of her mother and even tells her mother to say it (she does), I found that offensive. The violence was average considering the rating, with several shootings and various physical altercations that have bloody results.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3½]
—Debbie J., age 43
Neutral—This movie is pretty much a waste of time. The story concerns a mother and daughter trapped in a secret room in a downtown NY town house that contains 21 million that some “criminals” are trying to get. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME unless you have nothing else to do.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 1½]
—Bob Clark, age 38
…a perfectly serviceable thriller featuring innovative camera work [but ultimately] doesn’t deliver…
—Bill Muller, The Arizona Republic
Comments from young people
Positive—Aside from the excessive use of the “F” word, the film was very entertaining. I went in thinking I was going to be scared out of my seat, but the previews scared me more than the movie did. However, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Jodie Foster was perfect for the role and the daughter reminded me of a young Foster. The movie ends, kind of leaving you with sympathy for the lead “Bad Guy,” Forest Whitaker, but doesn’t let you forget what he and his thugs did to the two women. The cinematography was excellent and the music flowed perfectly with the plot. The language was in total excess and completely unnecessary, part of the reason for its rating. If you like edge-of-your-seat movies, but not too scary, this is a good one to see.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4½]
—Brian Christensen, age 17
Positive—I think that Panic Room was really good, but what I was expecting was something that would really scare me to death. But it didn’t, there was really great effects and cinematography that was used in a lot of scenes throughout the movie. Although there was quit a bit of swearing… all together this movie was good, and Jodie Foster was great, and the same with Jared Letto and the other actors who made the movie both spooky and funny all at the same time.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
—Holly, age 17
Positive—It was a really good movie the language was pretty bad and there was some blood but it had a good story line and a good ending I recommend it to kids 14 and up.
My Ratings: [5]
—Jarrod, age 13