David Fincher’s last feature film was Gone Girl in 2014. Since then, he has directed a number of episodes of Mindhunter for Netflix, a show for which he also functions as an executive producer.
The director, one of the most interesting working today, has had an eclectic career and made films as varied as Alien 3, Fight Club and The Social Network. His follow-up to Fight Club, Panic Room (2002, available on Netflix), was almost made in response to that scathing indictment of toxic masculinity and, while it might not be generally considered one of the filmmaker’s best, there is much to enjoy.
Fight Club had 400 scenes and 100 locations so Fincher, inspired by Wait Until Dark (a previous subject of this column), decided to focus on a single setting story involving three burglars attempting to rob a house owned by the kind of indefatigable female character so rarely seen on screen. Despite this bid for simplicity, difficulties during the production meant the Panic Room shoot ended up lasting 120 days, the longest of Jodie Foster’s career.
Foster replaced Nicole Kidman, who left due to a recurring knee injury. She plays the recently divorced Meg Altman, a role for which she had just nine days to prepare. Meg and her 11-year-old daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart in her breakthrough role) move into an expensive new home on the Upper West Side previously owned by a reclusive millionaire. When burglars enter the house, the mother and daughter retreat to the panic room of the title without realising the $3m in bearer bonds the criminals are after is actually locked inside a safe in the very room they’ve sought refuge in. So begins a Hitchcockian game of cat-and-mouse inspired by the news coverage of the time concerning the rise of panic rooms.
Fincher is a master technician and he wrings every last ounce of suspense from the limited setting. While Kidman was envisioned as a Hitchcock blonde in the mould of Grace Kelly, the part somehow feels perfectly suited to Foster with her distinct lack of glamour and quiet intelligence. She is ably supported by Stewart, whose remarkable body of work suggests her legacy will prove far greater than just the Twilight series. The screenplay is a masterpiece of economy and the motivations of the characters are skilfully teased out.
Some contemporary critics felt Panic Room was too mainstream when compared with Fight Club, but this is a taut psychological thriller that has aged remarkably well from a filmmaker who rarely puts a foot wrong.
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