Thursday, January 17, 2008

'Panic Room' Reviews

Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read.
If you have more reviews, feel free to email me. :)


•• CNN, Paul Clinton: Screenwriter and co-producer David Koepp has crafted an excellent script brimming with psychological twists and turns. There are also beautifully sketched subplots. Character development is revealed slowly and believably. And all the while, Koepp is weaving a web of terror that's pulled tighter and tighter as the film nears its conclusion.

Cinematographers Conrad W. Hall and Darius Khondji have created the illusion of a large airy townhouse, and then turned it into a high-security tomb that gets smaller and darker with each frame of film. Created on a sound stage in Los Angeles, the set by Arthur Max allows for tracking shots, tilts and zooms which take the viewer into the heart of the action -- and the core of the primal terror.

Foster, a two-time Academy Award winner, took this role 10 weeks into production when Nicole Kidman had to bow out because of injuries suffered while making of "Moulin Rouge." Foster grabs the part with trademark intensity. She and Stewart make a compelling team. (Stewart even resembles Foster when the older actress was that age -- Stewart turns 12 in April.) This is Foster's best dramatic work since "The Silence of the Lambs."

"Panic Room" is a classy, intelligent thriller for grownups. It plugs into our fears about personal security -- fears which, in this day and age, seem only too natural.

•• Reelviews, James Berardinelli: Rating 3,5/4
Critics writing reviews of Panic Room will likely delve into the cliché bag and pull out some of these familiar phrases: pulse-pounding, edge-of-the-seat, white-knuckler, thrill-a-minute, etc. However trite those sayings might be, they are appropriate for the latest tautly paced and slickly executed motion picture from populist auteur David Fincher. The film's gamesmanship is superior: a cat-and-mouse affair that sometimes features the skill, moves, and counter-maneuvers of chess and, on other occasions, plays out like a game of chicken. Because the protagonist is a woman, we are spared the often expected overdose of testosterone, but the high level of adrenaline more than makes up for it. It's almost like there's a feedback loop between the characters and the audience. Their tension feeds off of ours, and vice versa.

Panic Room does what all the best suspense-based thrillers accomplish: it keeps us on edge for about 90 minutes. It's not hard to become enveloped in the movie's spell. Fincher's style, which involves a restless, roaming camera, lots of shadows, and tension that builds to almost unbearable levels, pulls us in. Are there logical flaws? Undoubtedly, but they don't become apparent until long after the house lights have come back on. And the script rewards us with a rarity: protagonists and antagonists who are both smart. The resolution of Panic Room doesn't hinge on who makes the most stupid blunders, but on who outthinks the other. And there's a nice twist at the end. Unorthodox as it may be, it feels right.

This is much more a showcase for the director than for the actors. However, the contributions of the performers should not be overlooked. Panic Room succeeds because Jodie Foster (replacing Nicole Kidman, who had to bow out due to an injury) and Kristen Stewart create characters we care about. We believe the mother/daughter bond, and experience a sense of urgency when a critical plot point is revealed. Forest Whitaker is effective as Burnham, a burly man who is torn between greed and remorse. The man who constructed the panic room, he may be the only one who recognizes its weaknesses. As Junior, Jared Leto brings a manic quality to the part, and actor/singer Dwight Yoakam develops the nearly-silent Raoul from a background observer into a menacing, psychopathic presence.

It's conceivable that, with a different director, the same script could have resulted in a grade-B thriller. As he proved in both Seven and Fight Club, however, Fincher is a master of style. He knows how to use a camera to bring us into the action, rather than keeping us at arm's length. He understands that rain isn't just a meteorological condition, but a means to accentuate a gloomy atmosphere. Even the opening credits are presented in an atypical fashion. And, bucking the trend of recent movies, Fincher eschews quick cuts in favor of long, leisurely ones. He knows what he's doing, and the proof is in the result. The suspense in Panic Room never ebbs, and that makes for a thoroughly entertaining - if somewhat exhausting - 108 minutes.

•• Eye For Film, Jennie Kermode: Rating 2/5
Having very much enjoyed David Fincher's previous work (especially Se7en and Fight Club), I went into this movie full of anticipation, despite the presence of Jodie Foster, who impressed me with her Hotel New Hampshire era performances but whom I have found altogether too saccharine over the last decade, with sentimental schlock like Nell and Little Man Tate.

As it turns out, Foster handles her part impressively, and it is Fincher who disappoints, though I get the impression his style has been heavily compromised as a result of studio pressure. His usual energy is distinctly dampened; his comic instincts restrained, and those sort of jokes, when played without confidence, fall painfully flat; and the stock tacked on ending only serves to enhance the feeling I was watching a jumped-up TV movie. However, that said, Panic Room certainly has its moments, and I've a feeling that there was a top class film in here once.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about this movie is its opening credit sequence, which combines unusual perspective with sombre music to impressive effect, setting the tone for what was to follow.

Also impressive is Kristen Stewart, who plays Foster's daughter, and it was refreshing to see this type of part handled without recourse to cuteness. The kid is, in fact, the only character in the film who never does panic. Trapped in the eponymous chamber after their house is invaded, our heroines show a decent amount of intelligence and resourcefulness in protecting themselves and trying to get help (though it is, in some ways, all the more frustrating that apparently smart characters fail to employ what seem like obvious solutions).

Sadly, the personalities of the robbers are underdeveloped, and they fail to convince as suitably dangerous antagonists. Forrest Whittaker is good as always, but he is playing a part he's played many times before, and his character is too limited to permit any real build-up of tension. This is, essentially, a Hitchcockian concept, and needs characters as strong and capable as Hitchcock's in order to properly impress.

It thankfully manages to avoid most of the claustrophobia, chase and hostage drama cliches which one might expect in association with such a premise, at least up until the final running around and fighting scene, which is incoherent and altogether substandard. Impressive in places, worth watching for Foster and for the concept, but don't panic if you miss it.

•• BCC, Neil Smith: Rating 4/5
They should call it a Don't Panic Room - an impregnable burglar-proof chamber that is fast becoming the must-have accessory in every well-to-do American household.

But what happens if the very thing the intruders want is in there with you? That's the case in David Fincher's slick new thriller, a perfectly constructed recipe for buttock-clenching, palm-sweating tension.

A journeyman director might feel limited by a film where all the action takes place in a single house, but Fincher takes up the challenge with dazzling visual flair. His camera prowls up stairs, glides through walls, and, in one amazing computer-assisted tracking shot, follows the villains from inside the building as they inspect the exterior for weak points.

Only the film's eagerness to cut to the chase - there's little time to get to know the characters before they are plunged into peril - mars an otherwise hugely accomplished slice of Hitchcockian suspense.

•• Eric D. Snider: Rating A
David Fincher is four for four. His three previous films, “Seven,” “The Game” and “Fight Club,” were brilliantly plotted, ingeniously realized suspense-thrillers; his new “Panic Room” is right up there with them. It’s possible that as a director, Fincher is only getting better.

It’s “Wait Until Dark,” but thematically darker, scarier and more intense. The sound mix is crisp and vivid. The camerawork is exquisite, taking us through every nook and cranny of the house – through bannisters, keyholes, walls and floors. All the elements of filmmaking combine to put us in that house, and in that panic room, with the heroines. When everything is eventually resolved, we are as relieved to have survived as anyone. (And since Fincher is the man who gave us the relentlessly bleak “Seven,” there’s no guarantee all the people we like are necessarily going to make it.)

It is not deep beyond the level of being thrilling, but the screenplay by Dave Koepp (“Jurassic Park,” “Stir of Echoes”) does have a few deft touches of character. They are small details, but at least they are details. How many thrillers try to get away with presenting a tense scenario and no characterization whatsoever? The more we know these people – even the villains – the more we can be scared for them.

“Panic Room” is a top-notch piece of filmmaking, and will be far more palatable to mainstream audiences than “Seven” and “Fight Club” were. It’s unlikely we’ll see a better thriller this year. I sort of hope we don’t. I’m not sure my heart could take it.

•• The Diva: My first thought after I saw this movie was, "Home Alone for adults and without the comedy and Wait Until Dark" I know that sounds a bit weird, but that summed it up for me. Just like these two movies, Room puts a vulnerable person in an extraordinary situation and to their surprise and yours, they manage to hold their own and show the bad guys a thing or two in the process.

I loved the interaction and bonding between mother and daughter. Meg was clearly unsure of herself and was used to letting people just walk all over her, but with encouragement from her daughter, she takes the bull by the horns and fights like she's never fought before. I found myself cheering for her because I knew she wasn't just fighting the robbers, she was fighting every person who had ever dogged her in her entire life. She was getting back at her ex-husband who destroyed her self-esteem and hurt her child's feelings. Too bad for the robbers, eh?

Jodie Foster was awesome, she knew how to capture Meg's vulnerability and pain then turn it into the fuel for her anger. Newcomer Kristen Stewart (who I thought was a boy for the first 15 minutes) has a lot of potential and I daresay a great career ahead of her. She seemed so natural on the screen. She reminded me of myself and other children of divorced parents who at some point become the parent for a while. We're forced to grow up fast and she understood that.

Forest Whitaker convincingly plays a man torn between doing what's right and greed. He knows he shouldn't be going after a mother and child, but his need for the hidden objects conflicts with his better sense of judgment, and once again he is playing a "Gentle Giant" on the wrong side of good. Jared Leto was hilarious as the bungling ringleader. It's Dwight Yoakam who surprised me the most. I think I've seen him in a movie or two before, but I've never seen him like this. First of all, I didn't recognize him, but then again, I don't listen to country music so some of his fans might have been able to pick him out better than I did. Beyond that he was down right evil. He was someone you love to hate. I was very impressed.

But alas, the movie wasn't perfect. There were more than few "Yeah Right" moments and quite frankly it didn't scare me or creep me out the way the director intended. Yes it is scary being home alone and having your house broken into, but I wasn't on the edge of my seat. In fact, it was kinda of hooky at times. Despite some plot holes, it kept me entertained and I walked away feeling like I had seen a good - not great- movie.

•• eFilmcritic, Brian McKay: Rating 4/5
Oh, there's PANIC in the panic room, but ain't no sex in the panic room (unless you count a couple of shots of Foster's cleavage). That's okay though, because a film like this doesn't require sex. It requires atmosphere, deliberate pacing, intriguing characters, and edge-of-your-seat suspense. Thankfully, it provides ample doses of all of those, it's only weaknesses coming in the form of excess on the finishing touches.

Fincher has created a Hitchkock-like atmosphere, using only a single setting (the entire film takes place in the house) and no more than a half-dozen characters. In addition to the tight pacing, "Panic Room" features some amazing camerawork, which has become something of a trademark for Fincher since "Fight Club". There are some dizzying shots where the camera, seemingly in one fluid take, pulls back and zooms forward throughout the huge house, slipping through slats in stairway railings, keyholes, and even the handle of a coffee pot. I have no fucking clue how he does it, but it's got to be worth an oscar nod for cinematography. The cast all do good work, perhaps with the exception of Leto's character who, while providing some comic relief to break the tension, chews so much scenery that he could almost gnaw his way into the panic room. Meanwhile. Foster plays her role with a grim determination. She's no action hero, but she does heroic things that are based on necessity and calculated risk. Stewart plays a convincingly intelligent young woman who never lapses into any "daughter in distress" hysterics. Best of all is Forest Whitaker as Burnham, the thief with a conscience who realizes he is in over his head with his greedy and bloodthirsty colleagues.

Though "Panic Room" will have you clutching the armrests of your seat several times, it only begins to stumble when it becomes too elaborate. Why is Meg sneaking around the house setting traps and the like, when she could just pick up a gun and shoot the motherfuckers? and speaking of gun, why was one not included in the panic room already? That would be at the top of my list (next to the snacks and home entertainment system). And there are one or two contrivances that will have your snorting "yeah, right!" However, those kinds of moments are to be expected in even the best thrillers, and "Panic Room" has more than enough going for it to make up for the deficiencies.

•• View London, Matthew Turner: Rating 5/5
Hugely enjoyable thriller by David Fincher, with Foster back on top form – stylish, thrilling and nail-bitingly suspenseful, this is top quality stuff, and a terrific ‘date-movie’ to boot (though for less than honourable reasons).

The basic set-up is simple: Jodie Foster plays Meg Altman, a recently divorced woman who is still very bitter and depressed about the whole thing - her rich husband has shacked up with a supermodel and has bought Foster and her daughter (newcomer Kristen Stewart - excellent) A Huge Bloody Great House as a conciliatory gesture.

The performances are superb throughout – we can be thankful that original star Nicole Kidman had to pull out due to an ankle injury, because Jodie Foster is perfect in the part, combining bitterness, anger, vulnerability and sexuality (largely down to what is probably the skimpiest top she’s ever worn on screen). Apparently she was pregnant for the latter stages of the film (which was shot chronologically for obvious house-destroying reasons), though luckily Fincher never has to resort to hiding her behind tabletops and the like.

Of the rest of the cast, Whitaker is the standout and succeeds in making his character believably sympathetic. However, there is also great support from Jared Leto, Kristen Stewart and Dwight Yoakum (as ‘Raoul’, whose ski mask is genuinely creepy).

The main thing Fincher seems to have taken from Fight Club is an appreciation of dark humour and this is, occasionally, very funny, even daring to poke fun at its own plot-holes – e.g. when Foster smashes up the surveillance cameras one of the crooks wonders “Why didn’t we think of that?”

In short, despite the odd credibility-stretching flaw, the tension is sustained throughout and it's a hell of a ride. It’s also an extremely effective (if downright sneaky) ‘date-movie’ as you’ll be unlikely to want to go back to an empty house after seeing this. Highly recommended.

•• Variety, Todd McCarthy: A thinking-man's women-in-jeopardy picture, "Panic Room" does about as much as humanly possible with its deliberately restricted one-setting premise. Smartly plotted, convincingly acted and brilliantly executed technically, this engrossing thriller adds some modern wrinkles to the formula of intruders threatening innocents in their home.

A thinking-man’s women-in-jeopardy picture, “Panic Room” does about as much as humanly possible with its deliberately restricted one-setting premise. Smartly plotted, convincingly acted and brilliantly executed technically, this engrossing thriller adds some clever modern wrinkles to the time-tested formula of sinister intruders threatening innocents in their home. Satisfyingly worked out so as to avoid most of the credibility-bursting contrivances, cliches and coincidences of the genre, Sony release has what it takes to attract audiences of all stripes as well as to put Jodie Foster in the commercial winner’s circle for the first time in years.

Like many imperiled heroines before her, Meg has never been prepared to fight a battle to the death, and Foster fortunately keeps her real by keeping her reactions to events rational and improvisational, and by not allowing Meg to assume superwoman proportions.

Whitaker adroitly handles an even more conflicted and nuanced role, that of a morally principled working man who has mistakenly allowed himself to be suckered into a criminal act in the belief that it’s his one chance in life for a big score.

Other perfs are effective but strictly one-dimensional, including those of Leto as the hysterically unbalanced ringleader, Yoakam as the untrustworthy thug and Stewart as Meg’s withdrawn daughter. Patrick Bauchau has one of the more unenviable screen roles of recent times as Meg’s ex, who turns up in the middle of the night to help only to be pummeled incessantly for his efforts.

As expected from the supreme technician Fincher, pic has an arresting look. After abandoning the idea of shooting the film in total darkness, with only eyes and flashes of light appearing onscreen, helmer has still kept the light levels very low, delivering perhaps the darkest mainstream Hollywood feature since Gordon Willis was in his prime. Pale, ghostly images within the residence are contrasted with the very cool blue-gray in which the panic room scenes are bathed, and Fincher has maintained a stylistic consistency despite the departure of original cinematographer Darius Khondji over “creative differences” and his replacement with Conrad W. Hall, a Fincher camera crew regular and son of the great Conrad L. Hall.

Production designer Arthur Max’s four-story townhouse set is a wonder, its undecorated luxurious expanses creating an effectively forbidding atmosphere. Score by Howard Shore is of a piece with the film itself in its intelligent, understated turbulence. Opening title sequence strikingly features credited names grandly brandished, in the manner of building engravings, across impressive Manhattan cityscapes.

•• Black Film, Wilson Morales: The compelling aspect about this film is the acting and the cinematography. Never the “fraidy cat” as one would assume she would be, Foster brings credibility to the character. Yoakim is convincing as a menace whose involvement is only to get paid. Whitaker brings depth as a man who has limits to the things he will do to succeed, even though he has the most knowledge of the layout than the other two. Another “character” that helps the film is the brownstone itself. It’s hard making a film with one setting without making it look like a play, but the cinematography is gorgeous. From the kitchen to the bedroom to the panic room, each scene plays a role of importance. The opening sequence of Manhattan buildings as the credits run by is a sight to see. Not the greatest thriller ever, but thoroughly engaging. Panic Room is a reminder to those who live in big apartments, houses, or even brownstones; small is good.

•• ReelFilm, David Nusair: Rating 4/4
Panic Room is easily the most involving and gripping film to be released since last year's Memento. Don't miss it.

•• Urban Cinefile, Louise Keller: In one of the most ominous and original opening credits I can remember, 3D names are sprawled like giant billboards at unexpected angles across New York’s sky scrapers. Striking indeed and sets up the scene of impending terror. Resonating with tension, Panic Room is a gripping thriller that keeps you on edge every single second. David Fincher is a master at creating mood and this dark, moody piece becomes so claustrophobic that it’s hard to breathe. With the exception of the first and last scenes that are exterior shots of New York in autumn, the entire film takes place inside this dimly lit house of secrets. What is simply extraordinary is Conrad W. Hall’s lithe tracking camera work. It’s as though we are a slippery snake slithering along kitchen benches, through walls and ceilings at extraordinary speeds.

It’s an effective technique that coupled with Howard Shore’s intense and often frenetic music score, makes hearts beat faster and knuckles whiten. Jodie Foster is dynamite and totally credible as the newly separated young mother who needs to use all her wiles to save herself and her daughter, using minimal reaction to maximum effect. Foster has a knack of making you feel as though you can read her thoughts with her intensity and we are right there with her through all her angst. Terrific performances all round and Dwight Yoakam is positively terrifying as the thug who has no scruples: he oozes evil. I enjoyed Forest Whitaker’s security expert propelled by greed and Kristen Stewart is engaging as Sarah. It’s a thrilling ride that delves into our subconscious planting those seeds of fear that sprout and grow. Panic Room delivers on all counts so be warned – don’t enter alone! According to various US publications, a panic room is not as far fetched as you might imagine. It seems there are enough people who are insecure (and rich) enough to pay for peace of mind against the threat of crime, terrorism and kidnappings.

•• The Austin Chronicle, Kimberley Jones: Rating 2,5/5
In her first film since Anna and the King, Foster is terrific as the emotionally mangled mom, distant and bitter but tiger-shark snarly when it comes to the safety of her only child. Newcomer Stewart, too, is excellent, taking a cue from Foster's toughness (and Foster's stylist -- the two sport matching chin-length bobs). The burglars are more hit-or-miss; Leto is simply awful as the screeching, cornrowed Junior, Yoakam is deliciously creepy as Raoul, and Whitaker does what he can with a thankless part -- that is, to be the conscience (it goes without saying that Whitaker still wows, even with his undercooked role).

The typically showy camera moves in the most unexpected ways, to the most unlikely places, but more often than not it's a distraction when the camera sweeps through floorboards and cracks in the wall. It's obvious we're supposed to applaud Fincher for his camera trickery, but a detailed floorplan would have been more appreciated: The film never adequately lays out the house, which makes all the running from room to room to floor to floor more confusing than anything else. Panic Room also would have been served well by more exposition; the action kicks in almost immediately, before we've had a time to warm up to our heroines. (It's a testament to the actresses' likability that we warm up to them nonetheless.)

The same goes for the conclusion -- too wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am. Fincher is all business here. Granted, it's a fun business, the business of scaring the pants off the audience. And one hopes Fincher has had fun making a popcorn picture, with his sly references to Rear Window, Rope, and Wait Until Dark (to name but a few) and not a cultural zeitgeist in sight. Panic Room still feels like a Fincher film: It possesses the same smarts, the same visual panache, the same violence. But not the same heart. Sure, the heart of Fight Club and Se7en is a black-tar heart, a snaggle-toothed, soul-sucking, cynical heart, but it beats nonetheless, in the most primal of ways. It doesn't beat here. It tick-tick-ticks with the mechanics of the mind, hitting every plot point, snaring each scare, but it doesn't exhilarate. Let's hope Fincher has enjoyed his vacation in Popcornopolis; now may the real David Fincher, the black-tar heart David Fincher, please resume his post in the vanguard.

•• RadioFree: The real credit, goes to Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart as the home invasion victims. It's nice to see Foster in a Hollywood action role. Coming across as smart and athletic, she makes a good Sarah Connor, kicking ass in a tight top and flashing gratuitous cleavage. A squeeze here, a downblouse there--it's all good. Conversely, Stewart excels by being as normal as possible. She talks trash and also has a good head on her shoulders, but she always grounds things by remaining the most believable character in the whole story. What's more, she has a great chemistry with Foster, and they really have the mother/daughter routine going on.

•• The Telegraph, Tim Robey: Panic Room is a tense, innovative and slick film, even though it lacks David Fincher's usual bite.

In Panic Room, it's Jodie Foster's turn in that torture chamber of rich white peril. She's Meg Altman, a recently divorced mother moving into a brownstone on Manhattan's Upper West Side with her teenage daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart).

It's a palatial three-floor town-house with a distinctive security feature: the "panic room" is a thick steel vault, ventilated, with a bank of CCTV monitors that cover the entire place. In the event of a break-in, you run inside, the door slams shut and, hey presto, you're tucked up in a perfectly impregnable hideaway.

It comes in handy on Meg and Sarah's first night in the house - one of the smartest touches in David Koepp's screenplay, since they're unsettled and can't yet call it home. Three burglars, unaware that anyone's inside, force their way in. Their movements are tracked, in a virtuoso long take, by Fincher's camera, which - assisted by his chums in the computer-effects department - slinks through doorframes, between banisters, up and down floors, through the handle of a coffee pot, and in and out of keyholes to show us the possible entry points.

•• The Christian Science Monitor: "Panic Room" takes its title from the latest fashionable twist in urban paranoia, a sealed-off chamber where beleaguered folks can hide from crime or catastrophe.

Aiming for a distinctive look, "Panic Room" takes a minimalist approach to the thriller genre, centering almost all the action on five characters in one place during a single three-hour period.

Also present is Fincher's long-standing affection for hyperactive camera movements, juicing up any scene where the acting or dialogue sags.

The cast is well-chosen, especially Forest Whitaker as the most interesting villain and Kristen Stewart as Foster's daughter, who's battling physical illness as well as criminal assault.

Foster is fine, but the story's outcome would seem a tad more uncertain if another actress had the part. How scary are three New York tough guys when you've handled Hannibal Lecter in your time?

•• JoBlo, Berge Garabedian: Rating 8/10
I don't think I've ever started any of my reviews by professing my love for another man, but I think that in this case, it makes a lot of sense. Have you guys seen the movie SE7EN? Have you had the chance to watch THE GAME? Have you lived inside the genius that was FIGHT CLUB? Well, I have and seeing as all three of these parties were thrown by the same man named David Fincher (yes, he's the man that I adore), I was strapped in tight when this film started to roll, and wouldn't you know it...yet another keeper! From the clever opening credit sequence, to the nuances of shadows and sound, the gripping screenplay, the acting performances, Jared Leto's fucked-up hairdo and everything up and around a room in which folks generally end up when they're panicked, this film had me crunching down on my fingernails and enjoying every tension-filled minute. It's a "small" David Fincher film compared to everything else that he's done, but it works and it surprised the heck out of me since I really didn't think that a movie set up entirely in one house (and even more so, in one room!) would be able to maintain my interest throughout. But it did so and did so in spades! And with Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW in mind, plenty of camera tricks in his back pocket and some very engaging characters and suspenseful flashes, this movie pulled me inside this place for a couple of hours, and I was glued to its characters all the way through.

The film also had several interesting personalities, top of which list goes to Jared Leto's character, who kept things upbeat, despite the film's obvious mucho dark undertones. He was dumb, funny, angry and ultimately, very appealing as one of the main bad guys. Forest Whitaker was also very good as the "bad guy with a heart" and Dwight Yoakam,'re gonna have to see the movie to figure this nut out. A good combination of "bad guys", I thought, with animosity among them sparking things up, to boot. I also liked the fact that we got enough background on them to appreciate where they were coming from, but not enough to know what their next moves would be (and yes, twists and turns do arise). Of course, drawing the audience in with a couple of sympathetic protagonists is another story, and here, once again, Jodie Foster and the young Leonardo DiCaprio look-alike Kristen Stewart (who I'm still convinced, is a boy!), offered up the goods. Foster, solid as always, engages us as a "regular" mom with issues and concerns like us all, while the palpable chemistry between the two, made you root for them that much more by the end. It also goes without saying that the directing and style of the film made it all that much more claustrophobic and believable, starting with the house itself, which never seemed inviting to anyone, the panic room, tight, green and sound-proof and the amazing score by Howard Shore, which eerily hovered over the entire piece.

But ultimately with any suspense thriller, it is the overriding feeling of dread and "what the fuck is gonna happen next?" that's gonna drive you to squeeze your paws into the skin of the person sitting next to you, and I for one, was quite engaged by the scenario set up here. Every action by the "good guys" had a resounding reaction from the "bad guys" and I really liked how things ultimately played against one another like that (saying more would ruin stuff, so I'll leave it at that). The ending was also pretty jolting, although I have to say that I was a little disappointed by the final shot in the movie, which I thought needed a little "more" (maybe I'll feel differently when I see it again though). In the end, the film plays on all of our fears about being helpless in a situation with insurmountable odds, and for was quite the ride. Thank you David Fincher, for creating such memorable and distinctive movies. You rock.

•• The Seattle Times, Moira Macdonald: Something about the opening of David Fincher's "Panic Room" immediately brings to mind Alfred Hitchcock's classic tale of voyeurism, "Rear Window" — the leisurely shots of New York apartment buildings with their banks of faceless windows; the vaguely '50s-style lettering of the credits; the ominous sense that behind each of these windows lies a story, if only we could see inside. And "Panic Room" does indeed turn out to be about voyeurism, but of a flashier and far less human sort. It's a triumph of technical filmmaking; as a story, it's got ice in its heart.

Nonetheless, it's a treat to see long-absent Jodie Foster back on screen, and she does her flinty best with the somewhat thankless role of Meg Altman, a single mom smarting from a recent divorce. At the movie's start, Meg and her daughter have just moved into a posh Manhattan townhouse containing a "panic room" — a high-tech shelter to be used in the event of danger — and, from the murky looks of things, very few working light fixtures. We've barely met Meg and young Sarah (Kristen Stewart) when, on their very first night in the house, some nasty intruders show up and the cat-and-mouse game begins.

(Why don't Meg and Sarah just call for help from the panic room, you say? Well, if they could do that, there wouldn't be a movie.)

But "Panic Room's" two inventive directors of photography, Conrad W. Hall (son of the legendary cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, who won his most recent Oscar for "American Beauty") and Darius Khondji (who shot Fincher's equally dark "Seven"), are the film's real stars. Their cameras seamlessly whoosh through keyholes, under counters and through floors, giving us a moody roller-coaster tour of the dark house. Later, as the movie explodes into violence, the camera becomes a brutal kick in the face.

It's all very stylish and cool, in a disembodied sort of way — we're not seeing any of this through the eyes of a person, but through a camera that, in some ways, is more of a character than anyone on screen. The people all are one-note: Meg is brave and strong; little Sarah is a mini-Meg; the three intruders (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam) are smart, dumb and evil, respectively. Whitaker's character turns out to have a conscience, which gives the actor something to play, but otherwise the story is secondary to the visual thrill ride. You find yourself curious about where the camera will go next, not what will happen to the people it's capturing.

"Panic Room" is an accomplished and often elegant film, and David Koepp's screenplay has some nicely pared-down dialogue. (Sarah, asked if her mom is rich, replies, "No, my dad's rich. Mom's just mad.") But, when it's over, you wonder what the point was — why, exactly, Fincher wanted to tell this story. Foster, in an enigmatic final close-up, looks like she's wondering, too.

•• Movie Habits, Marty Mapes: Rating 3/4
Fincher’s best film is also his most recent — Fight Club. Therefore, as a fan of Fincher’s, it was impossible to walk into Panic Room without high expectations, and although Panic Room is good, it’s not Fincher’s best. In that sense, Panic Room is a bit of a disappointment.

Still, it’s easy to appreciate Panic Room on its own merits.

The story is more narrowly focused than any of Hitchcock’s movies, but certain aspects of the Master of Suspense are apparent. For example, the main characters are everyday people caught in a web of crime, and suspense and tension rule the film. And Howard Shore’s heavy, dark music is about as close to Bernard Herrmann’s as we get in 2002.

Fincher also seems to be paying tribute to Orson Welles, in particular, Citizen Kane. In 1941 Welles changed cinema with his high-contrast lighting, low-angle photography, and moving camera technique. Fincher too uses dark and light as though they were tangible. Creepy low angle shots make this “perfect” house seem twisted. And finally, a fantastic moving camera travels through impossible spaces, not unlike the shot in Kane that flies through a sign, through a skylight, and in to the action.

Still, Fincher has his own unmistakable visual style, and it’s quite apparent in Panic Room. He used impossible camera moves before in Fight Club, where the camera becomes tiny and flies through a gas pipe or out the pores in someone’s face. Also, ever since Seven, Fincher has grabbed the audience’s attention with unique title designs. For Panic Room, gigantic letters float perfectly among the buildings in New York’s crowded skyline, spelling out the talent behind the movie. It’s a visual flourish that is not really relevant to the story, but it’s cool.

Four Good Actors - As for the performances, not a single one was misplayed. Jodie Foster has both strength and vulnerability as the frightened mother. Kristen Stewart has the confidence and edge of Edward Furlong in Terminator 2 without the mediocre dialogue. And two of the three burglars are strokes of casting genius. Forrest Whitaker has a soft face and gentle eyes — you’d never peg him for a criminal. And Dwight Yoakam (who terrorized Karl in Sling Blade), proves to be one of the better singer-turned-actors in the business.

It is safe to say that David Fincher has still not directed a bad movie. If Panic Room is a disappointment, it has as much to do with my elevated expectations as anything else. For Fincher’s next film, I’ll probably have lower expectations, which probably ought to make me enjoy it even more.

•• Cinema Signals, Jules Brenner: Casting is aces, starting with Jodie Foster's unmatched quality of intensity and vitality of mind and furthered by the relationship she and Kristen Stewart establish and maintain with unquestioned credibility. These are mother and daughter in extremis and there's no question about their life together and regard for each other. Foster makes us care deeply about these people and their chances of survival against relentless, armed siege.

The complexity of the characters as they act out the motives that drive them is a superb creation of screenwriter David Koepp ("Stir of Echoes") and director David Fincher who, here, is far more successful with his characters and drama than he was with his uneven "The Fight Club" and the overlauded "Seven".

It's pointed out in the dialogue early in the movie that a panic room, built within the walls of a home, is the modern equivalent of an earlier age's "castle keep", the stronghold. One would expect that the protection of royalty under attack would include a tunnel under the moat for an escape to safety. In the brownstones of upper west side Manhattan, however, you don't get an easy exit. But, being trapped is what drama is all about.

•• The Movie Report, Michael Dequina: Rating 3/4
David Fincher's thriller has been criticized as being a mere technical exercise, but is that really a problem for a film that wants to be nothing more than a precision-calibrated thrill machine? Certainly not when the film succeeds at hitting its unpretentious aims as well as this one does. Jodie Foster plays a new divorcée who moves into a large home equipped with the steel-reinforced security room of the title; she and her young daughter (Kristen Stewart) make quick of use of it when, on their first night, a trio of burglars (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, and Dwight Yoakam) break in, looking for something stashed away in the panic room.

David Keopp's screenplay never ventures any deeper in terms of character or content, simply piling on plot turn after plot turn, so it's up to Fincher and his cast to give the film any personality. Foster succeeds in adding unscripted dimensions to her role, and she and Stewart do their part in lending the film some sense of humanity; on the villainous end, Whitaker and Yoakam impress while Leto is shrill. But no personality comes on stronger than Fincher's, who constantly finds interesting ways to ratchet up the tension visually, whether through seemingly unbroken shots or a classic "hurry up!" moment shown entirely in slow motion. Style definitely wins over substance in Panic Room, and it's difficult to imagine the film being as enjoyable an entertainment if that were not the case.

•• The New York Times, A. O. Scott: ''Panic Room,'' with its predictable narrative, small cast of characters, and severe constraints on time and space, is a less grandiose undertaking. Aside from brief scenes at the beginning and the very end, the whole thing takes place on a single set in a single night. But its challenges were clearly attractive to the director, and his camera sense and assured pacing make it an above-average thriller.

Mr. Fincher has mastered the traditional syntax of cinematic suspense: the shifting points of view, startling cuts and slow camera movements that work subliminally to fill us with dread and anxiety. But he also uses computer-assisted techniques to amplify the effects, extending what the camera can do. Early in ''Panic Room,'' it pulls back from Meg's bedside and executes a dazzling, impossible three-dimensional tracking shot, swooping down through the central staircase, caroming through the hallways and finally penetrating the back-door keyhole. Mr. Fincher routinely suspends the laws of physics, passing through walls and doors and viewing the action from above, below and often, it seems, from two perspectives at once.

Even the most impressive technique can do only so much, and David Koepp's script, efficient though it is, is not very original. The acting is fine, but everyone here has been better -- and similar -- elsewhere. Mr. Whitaker is somber, world weary and morally complicated, and Ms. Foster is steely and vulnerable. Mr. Leto and Mr. Yoakam add some anxious comic energy, and young Ms. Stewart is good enough to help you overlook just what a stock character the smart-alecky, sensitive-underneath-it-all Sarah really is.

But none of the actors have been granted sufficient room for a real performance, and we never believe in the characters enough to care about what happens to them. ''Panic Room'' was skillfully constructed, no doubt at considerable expense, but it's hard to shake the feeling that nobody's really home.

•• USA Today, Mike Clark: 'Panic Room' opens door into a well-shot thriller - Jodie Foster could be living a movie lover's dream in the efficiently directed, fabulously shot but mundanely written Panic Room: She's locked in a room with eight TV monitors. But she has a few distractions in the contrived latest from David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club), which ends up coasting on its great chiller gimmick.

Photographed in the darkest visible tones by newcomer Conrad W. Hall and Darius Khondhi (Seven), Room and its tilting/panning camera have a blast zipping through and around a dozen large rooms — most of them unfamiliar to new resident Foster during brief escapes and pursuits (searches for insulin, a cell phone) outside the panic room.

Of course, if one of the murder-bent thugs simply planted himself in front of the panic room's door, the story would be over. It also seems that the police are slow in responding to a distress call, though admittedly, the passing of time is tough to gauge.

Because Room's own time is limited to the 95-minute range, things move fast enough to make it a movie to enjoy and then forget — if you don't mind some above-average brutality seemingly left over from Fincher's Brad Pitt-Edward Norton punch-outs.

As Foster vehicles go, it's zestier than Nell or Anna and the King, which would be tough to watch even if you were stuck in a room of monitors with nothing else to do.

•• Total Film: Rating 4/5
The first rule of viewing Panic Room: Do not expect another Fight Club. The second rule of viewing Panic Room: Do not expect another Fight Club. Ignore these rules at your peril, because how much you enjoy David Fincher's fifth directorial outing will likely depend on your level of anticipation. Go in hoping for a similarly bruising masterpiece - - another brainscorcher that thrashes with relevant ideas, glints with incendiary politics and bristles with punky visuals - - and you'll be disappointed. Panic Room is a movie of little substance. It does not have the script to match Fincher's bravura technique. It's even, dare we say it, superficial. But eyeball it as a sustained exercise in style and suspense and it delivers. Big time.

Panic Room is not primarily a film about performances, but they're faultless nonetheless. With Foster that's pretty much a given, especially as Meg is the kind of resilient woman she thrives on, but the other four major players are every bit as good. As the trio of prowlers we have Forest Whitaker (baddie with a conscience), country-and-western singer Dwight Yoakam (genuinely terrifying psycho) and Fincher fave Jared Leto (wired crackhead), and all three handle the group's shifting power dynamic with subtlety. And then there's newcomer Kristen Stewart, who proves cine-kids don't have to be either unbearably cute or snivelly brats - - they can be somewhere in between, occupyinga territory labelled `real'.

But this is Fincher's movie. Just take a look at the `coffee pot shot', 15 minutes in. Up until this point, the camera's been fairly well-behaved by the director's standards, recording the action with little fuss. Then Meg goes to bed and Fincher goes to work: the camera pulls back out of the room, through the bannister and down the stairs, enters the kitchen, flies through the handle of the coffee pot, rests on the front window as the burglers' van pulls up, melts through a wall and arrives at a back door as it's tested by an intruder, drifts heavenwards and dissolves right through the ceiling before finally stopping at a huge skylight as the gate-crashers again try to force entry.

Such technique is showy as hell but absolutely mindblowing. By setting an entire film in one house, Fincher has set himself a challenge - how do you conjure something cinematic out of a single location? It's the kind of self-imposed task Hitchcock thrived on whenever he got bored with this filmmaking lark: Lifeboat was set in one, er, lifeboat; Rope in one room; Rear Window (which is visually referenced here) across one back yard. Fincher succeeds by literally ignoring the boundaries, letting his free-spirited camera take a ghost's-eye-view as it passes through walls and floors.

No one else - and we mean no one - could have made so much from so little. Trust us, you'll be hammering at the cinema door to get back in for a second viewing.

Verdict: The script falls well short of Se7en and Fight Club (don't they all?), but this is exhilarating stuff. Your brain will throb and your heart will stop dead. You've been warned.

•• Dustin Putman: Rating 3/4
A superb exercise in eliciting suspense out of simple, progressively sticky situations, "Panic Room" is a taut, exciting thriller. That the film primarily takes place inside a single room over one night and still obtains the ability to rachet up almost unbearable tension is a testament to the superior filmmaking abilities of director David Fincher (1999's "Fight Club").

Ingeniously written by David Koepp (1999's "Stir of Echoes"), "Panic Room" stands as a sterling example of how to make a thriller the right way. Along with cinematographers Conrad W. Hall and Darius Khondji's (1999's "In Dreams") marvelously atmospheric camera work, director Fincher makes the most of a film set in such an enclosed space. One seemingly unbroken shot is especially a stunner, as it starts off with Meg in bed, travels downstairs, through the handle on a coffee pot in the kitchen, follows the intruders outside as they try to find a way into the house, and finally goes into the keyhole of the front door.

Fincher also uses the life-threatening situations at hand to optimal effect, such as a sequence where the men send propane gas into the air ducts of the "panic room," and another where Meg quietly sneaks out of the room to find her cell phone, with the men right outside the door. It is clear every step of the way that "Panic Room" is more of an exercise in style than a deep, thought-provoking motion picture, but it does it extremely well.

As Meg, Jodie Foster (1999's "Anna and the King") makes for the perfect strong-willed protagonist. While her character is slimly developed, Foster is so adept at subtlety and realism in her acting style that all you really need to know about her is found in her body language and expressive facial expressions. In newcomer Kristen Stewart, you couldn't find a more dead ringer to play Foster's daughter if you tried. Luckily, the young Stewart also appears to have the acting chops to fulfill the requirements of the role. As the three thieves, the always good Forest Whitaker (2000's "Battlefield Earth") adds great depth to the most soft-spoken and humane of the trio, while Jared Leto (2000's "American Psycho") and Dwight Yoakam (1996's "Sling Blade") ably support him.

For all of the technical and stylistic artistry involved in bringing "Panic Room" to life (the marvelously inventive opening credits sequence is also worth noting), with the end credits comes a curious feeling of having had a fun time, but nothing more. The film doesn't really achieve much in its 109 minutes, nor does Meg or any of the other characters go through a much-needed catharsis needed to make the final moments more satisfying. Still, these minor shortcomings are a small price to pay for a film in the thriller genre that is as genuinely electrifying as "Panic Room" is.