Edge of your seat

Two out of three female editorial staff members want to be Jodie Foster.

Two out of three female editorial staff members want to be Jodie Foster.

Rated 4.0

Director David Fincher, the visual master behind the likes of Seven, Fight Club and The Game, continues to amaze with Panic Room, a taut, scary and skillfully made thriller starring Jodie Foster and Forest Whitaker.

After a recent divorce from a wealthy man, Meg (Foster) and her teenage daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart), are moving into a Manhattan home that must be setting the ex-husband back considerably in support payments. Multi-storied and quite vast for city space, the film implies that Meg buys the house to get a little bit of revenge against her unfaithful husband. As her daughter says over their first pizza in their new home, “Fuck him.”

The home comes equipped with something called a panic room, where inhabitants can seek shelter in case of a break-in. It’s reinforced with a steel door, equipped with video monitors covering nearly every corner of the house and stockpiled with food and medical supplies. It also has a separate phone line, so a person can call the police even if a criminal cuts the main home line.

Mother and daughter don’t get much time to settle in, and they must put the room to the test on the first night in their home. A trio of burglars, looking for something left behind by the house’s previous filthy rich owner, breaks into the abode unaware that a family has moved in.

The crew includes Jared Leto as the crack-headed, dread-locked leader with a hot temper. Forest Whitaker plays Burnham, a man who has worked for a security company for over a decade and is well aware of the difficult task they face trying to access the panic room, where the treasure they seek is hidden. Playing the resident psycho is a ski-masked Dwight Yoakam, who played an incredible villain in Sling Blade and matches that fine performance with his frightening work in this film.

Fincher proves himself a virtuoso of pulse-pounding thrillers, with the tension never letting up once the party gets started. Knowing that Fincher has no problems with unhappy endings, we are constantly worried about the fate of Sarah and her daughter. This is not a movie that needs to send you home happy. Fincher prefers to make you sweat.

The movie is beautifully shot, featuring incredible tracking shots that take you down corridors, up and down staircases, through keyholes and into people’s faces. Fincher doesn’t just set the drama within a room in the house. The house, the innards of the walls and the rain-drenched exterior all become living parts of the scenario. Fincher is one of very few directors who can make every frame of his work a piece of art, and that is not an exaggeration.

Foster, who replaced Nicole Kidman after a knee injury, is perfection as a mother forced to deal with too much too soon after a bad separation. She is literally given no time to mourn or drown her sorrows in a bottle of wine, and Foster’s portrayal of Meg’s resiliency is right on and real. Complementing her with an exceptional performance is Stewart, who displays a rather polite strain of teen angst rebellion and looks like she could be Foster’s daughter.

The villains are all fantastic, with Leto a revelation as Junior, simultaneously providing some of the film’s best humor and scares. Whitaker manages to be a sympathetic character as the villain who doesn’t want to hurt anybody, and Yoakam must be just a little nuts to play psychos so well.

This is a wonderfully orchestrated, fully satisfying thriller, which is to be expected from one of the world’s best directors. Panic Room will make you very, very uncomfortable, and that’s just how Fincher wants you to feel.