Panic Room

Panic Room (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. David Fincher
viewed: 10/15/02

Panic Room is perhaps one of the slickest, best samplings of contemporary Hollywood, the latest from one of the most consistantly interesting big studio directors, David Fincher, whose previous work has included Se7en (1995) and Fight Club (1999).

Finsher utilizes digital technology in manners unlike anyone else that I can think of. In this film, which takes place (almost entirely) inside a large house in Manhattan, Fincher’s camera embodies an omniscence nearly as complete as imaginable.

The device is common enough in both theater and film, to create a set that allows a viewer to see into two (or more) environments in a single view, to see both sides of a wall that separates two separate scenes of action, for instance. It’s common enough to hardly consider how Fincher’s camera swoops through floor after floor, wall after wall, through shut doors to reveal both sites (sides) of action contemporaneously. With digital assistance, Fincher also provides swooping, “uncut” tracking shots that go through windows, air ducts, pipes, railings, even the handle of a coffee cup. The eye of the camera is made capable of being anywhere, everywhere, all at once.

These stunning visual motifs have an interesting counterpoint in the Panic Room itself. The Panic Room is a protected strongbox equipped with a number of viewing screens that can “see” into every room of the house. The cameras that supply the Panic Room‘s omniscence are, however, locked down into place, a static view from a single perspective. It’s an interesting contrast that the seat of this very powerful viewpoint is also a space of protection and entrapment.

Fincher also plays the narrative off this complex irony of space. The “cat and mouse” nature of the story flip-flops between the ways in which the home is both fortress and prison. The rules change for each side, swinging back and forth, offering differing glimpses of the stregnths and the weaknesses of their positions. There is probably a lot that can be gleaned from this aspect of the film alone.

I am not trying to suggest that this is a “perfect” film (whatever that might be), but it is an incredibly strong film and interesting. It would be easy to compare it to Hitchcock, but perhaps is a less imitative way. It has that amazing sense of control, manipulating the audience, showing its vision of the characters, locations, its point of view.

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