When a woman and her daughter move into a New York brownstone equipped with a ''panic room'' built to keep bad guys out, they are unaware of how soon they would need it--on their very first night in their new home.
Sometime it's the simple, straightforward stories that make the best psychological thrillers--and Panic Room doesn't get any simpler than this: Recently divorced Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) are looking for a new place to live and find a huge New York brownstone. They discover the house is equipped with a ''panic room,'' a hidden chamber built as a sanctuary in the event of break-ins. Little do they know how important this room will become. On their first night in their new home, three intruders--Burnham (Forest Whitaker), Raoul (Dwight Yoakam) and Junior (Jared Leto)--break in, sending Meg and Sarah flying into the panic room for safety. Unfortunately, what the robbers want, a safe full of valuable bonds, happens to be inside the very room mother and daughter are now securely trapped--and the trio won't be able to get in under any circumstances. The only way the bad guys can get their hands on what they want is to try and get Meg and Sarah to come out. Let the cat and mouse game begin.
Foster wasn't the first choice to play the divorced mother Meg. The role was supposed to go to Nicole Kidman, who bowed out when she injured her knee. Hmm, it would have been an entirely different film had Kidman stayed onboard, and maybe not quite as compelling. Honestly, can Foster ever really make a bad film? She's made questionable choices (Nell?) but she always manages to put forth her best effort. Panic Room is right up Foster's alley. Her performance is all about understatement--nothing is over-the-top. This acting framework is passed down to Stewart too, as the preteen Sarah, who starts off as a stronger person than her mother is but ultimately needs Meg's protection. Where the acting gets a little more frenzied is with our three burglar friends, especially Leto, who plays the excitable and none-too-bright Junior to a tee. Whitaker is also perfect as the calm and realistic Burnham, who knows all about the panic room. It's nice to see him acting again. Yoakam gets to play the big bad heavy but he does it well; he looks different and scarier every time we see him.
The true star of the film is the camera. Director David Fincher (Fight Club) expertly guides the audience through this darkened house via keyholes and around corners, creating suspense out of the simplest of things. Whether it's Meg and Sarah trying to wake their neighbor by flashing a light through a small opening in the panic room or Meg's attempt to get her cell phone, every moment flows tensely into the next. Fincher's well-known perfectionism comes shining through, with very little details missed. The film, however, doesn't surprise you with any major twists or turns. When something happens, you can pretty much guess what's going to happen next. This aspect doesn't make the film any less exciting because there is plenty of action and great dramatic scenes. It's just that with such a mastery of visual style and content, the film might throw in a truly nasty twist in the end. But no, the film predictably concludes as simply as it begins.
Even without a twist or two, this compelling psychological thriller delivers the goods.