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Panic Room Presses the Right Buttons

  • Holly McClure Movie Reviewer
  • 2002 3 Mar
  • COMMENTS
<I>Panic Room</I> Presses the Right Buttons

Panic Room - R

Best for: Mature teens and adults.

What it's about: Searching for a new home after her painful divorce, Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her teenage daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart), discover a 3-story 1800's brownstone in Manhattan's Upper West Side. Behind a hidden door in the master bedroom is a panic room, complete with impenetrable walls, surveillance monitors of the entire house, a separate ventilation system and a phone line. The first night in their home, Meg discovers three burglars (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakum) have broken in, so she and Sarah hide in the panic room. The three men are looking for millions of dollars rumored to be hidden in the secret room, but when Meg refuses to give up and her ex-husband Stephan (Patrick Bauchau) shows up to help, what should have been a simple burglary turns into deadly game.

The good: I love what I call "get me" movies because they are intense and thrilling -- a game of survival of the fittest. Foster spends the entire movie in her pajamas running, jumping and thinking one step ahead of the bad guys. She gives an exciting but exhausting performance as she defends her sickly daughter (and to think Foster was pregnant when she made this movie!).

Face it: These days it's hard to make a unique thriller with plot points that surprise the audience, and even harder to make it scary when we know the main characters probably aren't going to die (especially children).

The dangerous nature of the three men and the limits they will go to for the love of money is the key to why this story works and manages to build suspense. The "scare factor" works because the three men are unpredictable, cold-hearted and greedy. Singer/songwriter/actor Yoakum once again proves he can play "mean" characters better than most.

The not-so-good: If you especially fear being robbed or hate to stay by yourself, this may not be the movie for you. Several scenes are unsettling, suspenseful, frightening and violent (propane gas is pumped into the ventilation system which in turn explodes in flames, Meg leaves the panic room for her cell phone, a couple of people are killed, another is brutally beaten, Sarah begins to convulse from a diabetic condition and requires a shot of insulin, a man's hand is caught/crushed in a door).

Sarah's sarcastic "teen attitude" with her mother (in the beginning of the movie) is supposed to be the result of "divorce issues," but that behavior made it harder to feel sympathy for her character. When her diabetic condition is revealed and she almost loses her life, the girl's demeanor changes.

Offensive language and behavior: Lots of language (mostly the "F"-word), crude dialogue, some religious profanity and exclamations. Some adult dialogue about the bitter divorce.

Sexual situations: Dialogue about the father's girlfriend (whose voice is that of Nicole Kidman, who was originally cast in the role of Jodie Foster).

Violence: A man is shot in the head, then shot again, Stephan is brutally beaten and has a bloody face, a fire burns a man's face, Meg slams a door on one of the man's hand, a man aims a gun at Meg.

Parental advisory: Just because there is a pre-teen character in this movie doesn't make it suitable for the PG-13 crowd. This is an "R"-rated adult story, with violence and language that is too mature for the younger crowd.

Bottom line: I enjoyed this movie because of the talented cast and their ability to make the premise believable. Having your own panic room might be an appealing idea, but having one in your home could create undo fear and paranoia in your life. Would you put a panic room in your house if money were no object? This movie raises that interesting question.