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Panic Room

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 107 mins . MA15+ . PAL


Within the space of only a few films, director David Fincher has built quite the reputation to live up to with his subsequent creations. Renowned in particular for Se7en and Fight Club, both rather out-there and definitely twisted in their own ways, it may surprise some to learn that his latest effort, Panic Room, is basically quite a traditional suspense-laden thriller.

Recently separated Mum Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her teenage daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) are house hunting in Manhattan. They come across a seeming dream residence – a four storey townhouse/brownstone/brownhouse, complete with a lift, security system and even one of those incredibly funky baths with legs – oh, and a rather intriguing addition to the security system, a “panic room”. Essentially this is a refuge come the event of a home invasion of any sort, a reinforced steel area, with reinforced steel ceilings, reinforced steel floors and most importantly a reinforced steel door - and complete with its own phone line, electricity and air supply. Just why a mother and her daughter need such a massively gigantic residence is a question that can’t help but spring to mind, however they seem to feel it justified and they quickly move in.

After an exhausting day shuffling boxes around, the two hit the hay – but their peaceful slumber is short lived when three intruders intrude. Security guy Burnham (Forest Whitaker), his sidekick Junior (Jared Leto) and a third wheel the latter brought along, the balaclava-clad, gun-toting Raoul (Dwight Yoakam – this guy can’t win, even his fictional name is cumbersome) are all motivated by one thing – greed – and with inside knowledge that quite the number of millions is secreted away in the house they feel it their duty to liberate it. However, little did they count on the house being inhabited already after the death of its previous owner, nor on the fact that on encountering them the Altman women would stash themselves away in the one place they needed to go – you guessed it, the panic room.

"I spent the last 12 years of my life building rooms like this, specifically to keep out people like us."

In true thriller fashion a series of dogged cat and mouse mental and physical battles ensue, in what is an incredibly engrossing tale that, as all of the best thrillers do, slowly reels you into its quite claustrophobic universe and has you hanging on most every scene. Panic Room boasts a small central cast simply brimming with talent. Jodie Foster was a last minute replacement for an injured Nicole Kidman (who has to make do with a cameo as a voice on a telephone); however you would be hard-pressed to suspect it, as she fills the role with a subtle intensity that few could carry off so well. Whitaker is at his best, managing to maintain a certain softness and likeability regardless of his bad guy status, whilst Leto and Yoakam provide the menace to bring home just how terrifying the Altmans’ situation really is.

It’s a credit to Fincher that he can turn his aim to such a beast with such seeming ease, and the many comparisons to him pulling off a modern-day Hitchcock-styled feat are certainly not unfounded – which is high praise indeed. Even from the stunning opening credits, through to employing all manner of elastic camera moves which send us careening through walls, skidding over bench tops and breezing up stairwells, the at times completely stunning cinematography only serves to add volumes of menace and tension to the already quite stifling situation delivered by the screenplay (from David Koepp, who has had quite the successful 2002 with this and also Spider-Man). Panic Room truly is a visual, and mental, thrill ride.


Panic Room sticks to Fincher’s seeming trademark grimy look, with a predominant palette of dingy greens and occasional muted blues. Most all of the film takes place in dimly lit areas, which in all could have meant this would be quite the challenge for decent DVD encoding. However, pleasingly the news is good – as in all other than a couple of slight instances of shimmer this looks quite magnificent.

Presented in wonderful anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1, the transfer manages to deliver excellent detail at all times, and with the amount of dark scenes contained within the film this is no small feat. Unwelcome visual invaders are never entertained, with a very clean, problem-free print used as a source, and ever-so-slight grain at times really isn’t an intrusion – it’s barely perceptible, and actually adds to the fabulously filmic look of the vision.

With what seemed like a complete absence of a layer change on the first viewing, and follow up searches, first suspicions appeared that somehow this 107 minute film had been squished onto a single layer, as ludicrous as it of course seemed. It ends up that there IS indeed a layer change, so perfectly and essentially imperceptibly placed that it really sets a benchmark for placement of these usual annoyances on any future release. The Sony Pictures DVD Center strikes again!


Those whose bladders loosen over those three little letters ‘D’, ‘T’ and ‘S’ should load up on the incontinence pads, as Panic Room is furnished with a marvellous DTS 5.1 audio track, along with an almost equally as good Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The usual rules apply, with the DTS mix mastered noticeably louder than its DD counterpart, however for a change from so many discs which carry both formats certain scenes are definitely the better for the DTS mix – with a more, well, crystalline edge to proceedings at times.

Anyway, no matter which option you plump for, you’re guaranteed a veritable sonic thrill ride, with all manner of thrums, clunks, bangs and booms ricocheting between all speakers, and a hefty workload handed to the subwoofwoof to contend with. The soundscape is really one of extremes, veering from almost deathly silence at times to fixture-shifting loudness, however all is handled deftly. Synch is spot on at all times, and dialogue is only touch and go in the “huh?” department in a couple of whispered scenes.

Composer Howard Shore has delivered one of those incredible soundtracks which essentially deserves its very own credit as a cast member. It very much helps out the whole Hitchcockian air the film conjures up, and has more than the odd nod to the wonderful Bernard Herrman’s great musical legacy.


We’ve come to expect all manner of goodies with blockbuster releases such as this, so it may come as quite the shock to hear how little we actually get – especially when rumour has abounded – even on Fincher’s own website – of all manner of commentaries, documentaries and other goodies that were supposedly in the works.

Unfortunately, however, it seems all the fun stuff got locked away in its own panic room somewhere, so extras junkies will have to make do with a simple theatrical trailer (1:57), in un-enhanced 2.35:1 with DD 2.0 sound and some selective filmographies for the principal cast members (complete with a misspelled ‘Yoakam’), the writer and director. The trailer is pretty good, delivering an explanation of just what the actual panic room is and rapidly cut grabs from the film sans dialogue, however it’s hardly anything to get really excited about. If we were to get desperate mention could also be made of the Dolby Digital ‘City’ trailer, and also the DTS, umm... the daggy looking trailer that explodes.


The video transfer is quite superb, the sound is a knock-out that’s perfectly suited to show off just why you invested in all those speakers and the film is an exciting, at times nail-biting and always engrossing example of the modern-day thriller. If the film is the reason why you invest in DVD then this is truly a worthy purchase, it’s only if you live for mountains of extras that you’re bound to come away disappointed.

If Hitchcock was alive today, I daresay he’d approve wholeheartedly of Panic Room.

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      And I quote...
    "If Hitchcock was alive today, I daresay he’d approve wholeheartedly of Panic Room..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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