is easily Fincher's best movie to date—a dull set of steak-knives.
There’s one telltale sign that this thriller doesn’t cut deep. Throughout the course of the movie, we hear that the booty goes up from 3 million, to 10 million, and then near the end, to 22 million dollars. But there’s no resonance to these discoveries—what does it matter? This increase loot value comes across as blunt attempts to jack up what’s at stake here. It is ironic that while the dollar stakes have gone up throughout the movie, the emotional stakes have gone down. I believed that Meg and Sarah were in real danger at the beginning; by the second half of the movie, I felt that the cards were stacked so unfavorably against the robbers so as to negate the danger. This is a cat-and-mouse thriller where the cat has lost its paws and its sense of smell. The cat is also battling multiple-personality disorders.
Is there an attempt by Fincher to subvert the thriller form, as Allyn suggests? Perhaps. But he doesn’t play consistently. How can we buy into the moments of subversion when he also kowtows to the usual staples of the form? 911 operator putting someone on hold—how much have we seen that one, or variations thereof? Besides Meg gave the operator the address of the building, and 911 operators can trace where the call came from. Why didn’t the robbers smash all the cameras? Notice that we don’t even see the protrusive come-smash-me cameras until Meg smashes one. Why? Well, I think it’s obvious why. (I see Raoul’s comment “why didn’t we do that?” in response to the camera smashing not so much as an acknowledgement of the burglars’ collective stupidity, but rather an attempt of the filmmakers to displace the nature of the oversight from themselves onto the characters.) Given the function of a “panic room,” one is left wondering why there isn’t, say, a stun gun or pepper spray or mace? A one-way intercom—also a ridiculous idea, given we are supposed to believe the function of and expense that went into planning such a room: why design a room where one can see the intruders’ actions but not hear what they’re saying, or communicate with them? When Meg is ready to open the door for the first time, neither she nor her daughter Sarah can locate Burnham (Whitaker) on the monitors. Why are we asked to believe that she would take such an enormous risk and put her and her daughter’s safety in so much jeopardy to retrieve a cell phone? Subversion is served a side-dish; the main course here is a whole lot of leftovers.
Like Zach, I also picked up on the pro-feminist and anti-gun bent in the movie, but this liberal lift comes with a price tag. I am offended by the way the husband is treated in the movie—he is pummeled from the get-go, and I’m afraid that this is meant to be taken as some sort of retribution for his adulterous behavior. There isn’t a single thing that was said about him that wasn’t in some way derogatory before he shows up, and so we don’t know quite how to feel about the fact that he is immediately slapped, punched, and kicked around when we first see him. There isn't even a moment's coda acknowledging the generosity of his act. This movie goes from pro-feminist to verging on man-hating.
As lovely as tracking shots are, I left the theatre wondering if perhaps the cat-and-mouse thriller form is not a good place for it. The tracking shots suggest superfluid control, orderliness, anti-chaos. It stabilizes rather than discombobulates. It seems (for me anyway) to negate the jittery nervousness that is a vital component of the thriller genre. I do appreciate Fincher’s attempt to use tracking shots to convey connectivity, that there is no such thing as perfect isolation and containment, no such thing as complete safety: no panic room is an island—the inside is connected to the outside by wires, plumbing, gas lines (even the camera can go through walls and floors). But in achieving this effect, it also brings upon a soothingness that is anathema to the thriller form.
Meg may be the heroine of the story, but I think the sympathies of Koepp and Fincher belong to Burnham. The best thing about Panic Room
is the bivalence of our feelings toward Burnham, an effect aided enormously by the usual soulfulness of Whitaker’s performance. (One does wish for him to run off with the loot—you just know he’d find a way to repay financially for the property damage wrought.)