Angry Robot

panicky place

Here’s an inferior review of a superior film. Sharpen those critical knives. And get ready for spoilers! spoilers! spoilers!

I’ll skip over the opening round of generalizations and proceed on:

By some means that remain frustratingly unclear, they are able to break into the brownstone without setting off the alarm or creating any other disturbance that would announce their presence to Meg.

He must have missed the part where it’s explained that Forrest Whittaker designed the ‘panic room.’ Odd, because it’s central to the plot. So then let’s go with that:

This dramatic improbability jars us from Fincher’s meticulously constructed world and foretells the movie’s tendency to slack off whenever the story shifts from mood piece to cat-and-mouse thriller.

I must have missed the ‘mood piece’ sections entirely. (Does he mean “setting shots”?) But then having understood a key plot point, I wasn’t jarred from the meticulously constructed world long enough to notice, was I?

…a toilet flush initiates a slow motion chase that is visually compelling but that feels fudged at the most basic level. Utterly predictable and therefore moot, it ends where we know it will…

“Feels fudged at the most basic level.” I feel like he’s wrong about this, but gosh, I just don’t know how to put into words. But I feel right!

“Utterly predictable and therefore moot”… I could start by crackin’ out the Hitchcock suspense/surprise theory, but that would be a little over the top. Let me just point out that a suspense sequence can still function when we know the outcome, just as suspense films in general are still suspenseful even though we know the outcome (good prevails, bad dudes sent packin’, etc.) It’s how you get there that counts. Or should Sunset Boulevard be boring because we know from the start the good guy dies at the end?

… Meg morphs into the prototypical James Cameron babe: muscled, profane, and butch-sexy in her undies.

I like this line, and you’re starting to win me back. Go get ‘em, tiger!

If only Fincher had Cameron’s sense of momentum. As the ideas start running out on both sides of the wall, the movie loses its sense of direction, and Fincher has no choice but to open the playing field and diffuse some of the claustrophobia.

Oh rats, you lost me agin. Or did I miss the cross-town police chase? The helicopter attack? Sure, I guess the front door was open during one scene, and one of the characters does go outside toward the end. The claustrophobia is ruined! Curses and damn.

But maybe Fincher has something more insidious up his sleeve. Whenever Panic Room fails as an exercise in suspense, it succeeds on the level of pure, uncensored real estate porn.

To avoid looking like a regular old newspaper film critic, begin strained pseudo-theory: now.

In Fincher’s world, however, cruising for a home involves the same perils as cruising for sex, and an unmistakable whiff of necrophilia perfumes everything.

Pseudo-theory stretching … stretching …

Production designer Arthur Max has created an intimidating fusion of Gothic architecture and contemporary gadgetry and then drenched it all in rot and decay.

Look mom, I know what a production designer does! Pseudo-theory momentarily sidelined.

His Manhattan brownstone is a large cadaver whose cavities the camera prowls like a rapist on the loose.

Snap! Pseudo-theory lies twitching on the ground. House? Body? Death? Rapecam? Flight of fancy? What? Oh right, the panic room wasn’t really a ‘safe haven,’ it was a tomb… fabulous.

Don’t get me wrong: Mr. Fincher’s latest is not an astoundingly great film. Methinks its aspirations were not so lofty, however. When we who have even modest Hollywood budgets at our disposal set our films in single locations, and make straight-up thrillers within said confines, the goal is more likely mastery of craft through limitation of form, and the comparison to Rope and Lifeboat becomes inevitable. These were Hitchcock’s experiments with unity of time and unity of place, respectively – the former taking place in ‘real time’ (story time=film length), and the latter taking place in a single location, a lifeboat. This is not to say that a Fincher is a Hitchcock, nor that Panic Room rivals those films in either achievement or limitation, but rather that the intention seems the same. I’m gearin’ up, I’m practicin’ my kung fu, gettin’ ready for big things a few films from now. I don’t think Fincher was trying to make his Rear Window, even if he did make a shut-in voyeur fest; so set that aside and enjoy the film for what it is.

2 comments on "panicky place"

  1. a.m. says:

    Someone recently made the point that Fincher likes the alternate back and forth between pop corn movies and more ambitious outings. It makes a bit of sense:

    The Game
    Fight Club
    Panic Room

    This trend seems to have come to an end with his next film: Mission Impossible 3.

  2. D says:

    Not sure I agree with that. Seems to me that all his films have a fair amount of popcorn in them – I’d say he’s more the oh-so-cleverly-subverting-the-system-from-within type. They clearly expected Fighting Place to gross big, as they spent a ton of dough on it. And I’d rule Alien 3 out of any auteur theory as it’s more the big adman doing any film they’ll let him do in order to crack into Hollywood.

    Anyway I wish the guy would do a $8-million film and forget about the popcorn for once. But I’m sure he’d hate to do without his fabulous budgets. Why, dear god, would Panic Room need to cost $60-million?

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