A lot of people don’t like Home Alone. They dismiss it as mindless prattle catering only to the unwashed masses. Personally, I’m a fan, and would be even more so if not for that damned annoying kid. But at last, David Fincher has a solution to the Macaulay Culkin factor and her name is Jodie Foster.
Foster stars in the latest Fincher directed thriller, The Panic Room as Meg Altman. Recently divorced, Meg and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart), have taken her ex’s fortune and bought a lavish old brownstone near Manhattan. Built by an eccentric millionaire, the home comes complete with hard wood floors, vaulted ceilings, state of the art security systems, and a panic room. An eccentric bit of protection, a panic room is a security room, designed as a last ditch-hiding place in case of home invasion. On their first night in the house, Meg and Sarah put it to the test, when thieves break in to steal a fortune hidden in the house by the previous owner.
Noticing any Home Alone similarities? If only Kevin had had a panic room. All he had was a bag of tricks… though Meg has plenty of her own. In true Home Alone fashion, robbers are bonked, burned, shot, and crushed in Meg’s desperate defense of her house. True, this is by no means cartoon violence, but the similarities are unavoidable. There are even one or two Joe Pesci references.
Perhaps Fincher is just a Culkin fan. Don’t let his obsession with Michael Jackson’s boy-toy distract you from the fine work he’s done here. Despite being oddly reminiscent of an adult, R rated version of Home Alone, The Panic Room is actually a gripping and skillfully constructed thriller. Here is a man not afraid to put his camera to use, dipping and diving and fading through walls to sharply careen us between villain and heroine in a breathtaking display of editing, angle, and effects.
Jodie Foster too, is quite admirable in her portrayal of a mother backed quite literally against a wall. The rapport between she in her daughter is believably low key and develops them strongly. Her reaction to danger is quick and intense, making it easy to buy into her peril. However, somewhere along the way someone decided it might be a good idea to make her claustrophobic. Exploring how a claustrophobic deals with being confined in a small space like that by choice and necessity might have added another level of tension to the film. Yet somewhere along the way, after bothering to tell us about Meg’s mental handicap, Fincher forgets to explore it. Maybe he decided the film didn’t need it. I actually might agree. But then why bother pointing it out to begin with? Despite breaking into hysterics after ten seconds of confinement earlier in the film, when danger rears its ugly head, her fear is only given a passing fancy.
Inconsistent character flaws aside, The Panic Room is a successfully intense and engaging thriller. Though I still maintain that Fincher or writer David Koepp must have in SOME way been inspired by Home Alone, don’t let that fool you into judging this some silly Acme anvil-fest. The panic and terror of the characters is palatable. The suspense unbearable. Beautifully scored by Howard Shore's haunting melodies, and admirably filmed and acted on all counts, Panic Room is at least more than worthy of the name THRILLER.
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