I have quite a love/hate relationship with movies that are labeled as “thrillers.” It’s not an easy genre, that’s for sure, since it relies on suspense and intensity rather than cheap scares or action and violence. Panic Room falls very nicely into that category, and luckily director David Fincher and writer David Koepp have proven themselves to be proficient at pretty much every genre put on the screen. Moving at a brisk pace and featuring a lot of surprises throughout the length of its run time, Panic Room is not only just an entertaining thriller, it’s one that will leave you thinking about all of its twists, turns, characters, and subtext.
Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) is a recently divorced single mother looking for a new house in the Upper West Side of New York City. She soon finds the perfect house, and moves in with her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart). On the night they move in, however, their house is broken into by three robbers: Burnham (Forest Whitaker), Junior (Jared Leto), and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), who all expected the house to be empty. Luckily for Meg and her daughter, their new house has a super secure panic room which they run into for safety while they think of a plan to get the intruders out of the house. While their options become limited, the terror only increases when it is revealed that what the three robbers are looking for is buried in the floor of the panic room.
So, like I said before, an essential element of thrillers is to feature something that is inherently fearful. That’s why there’s different kinds of thrillers. Psychological thrillers explore strange horrors of the mind, political thrillers show the paranoia and dangers of politics, but I’m not sure where exactly to place Panic Room. It’s a movie that explores something that I think is the most frightening thing of all, and that is something or someone getting into your house to cause harm to you or anything in your life. That’s why movies like The Strangers and Funny Games stick with me so much. This is another one that can go hand in hand with those movies, even though I’d say this one is a bit more Hollywood and more entertaining. It still relies on intense elements of suspense and basic human fears that I think we can all relate to.
Another really strong point of this movie, and surprisingly for me I think, is how incredible each and every character is. I thought that it was just going to be Meg and Sarah vs a trio of generic bad guys, but that isn’t true at all. Everyone in Panic Room is their own character and don’t resemble or come close to another. I can credit this not only to Koepp’s writing, but also to Fincher’s directing and all of the actors, who performed their parts very well. Possibly the only negative I can see in the performances is that Leto kind of became a cartoon at points, but I still had the most fun with his character because of that. So can it really be a negative if I still enjoyed myself? We may never know.
This is also one of those movies that can be enjoyed at its surface, but I dare say it’s even more fun to dive into the subtext and try to pick it apart. You may be surprised with what you find in Panic Room. I’ve seen analyses of the film that say it’s a story of feminism, technology, and/or modern medicine. I can definitely see all three, but I have to say that this is a movie about feminism more than anything else. Foster’s Meg Altman, with no help from anyone else, takes on the people that invaded her home possibly threatens the life of her and her child. It takes a smart approach with its stances on its themes, which makes it even more of a respectable film.
Panic Room is yet another success in both David Fincher’s and David Koepp’s ever growing body of work. It works as a horror film, a psychological thriller, and a film that explores deeper themes that may be expected. Everyone gives incredible performances, all with the aid of Fincher’s expert direction and Koepp’s lean and taut screenplay. For any fans of the thriller genre, or really movies in general, Panic Room is a must see.