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Monday, Jun 5, 2023


Author: Elizabeth Logue

It has been my intention for the last several weeks to write on an exhibit — a photography exhibit was the plan a few weeks ago and more recently the controversial "Mirroring Evil" exhibit at the Jewish Museum — but Yvonne Chen snagged that up quickly. But I seem to be consistently distracted by other things, and then, suddenly, I am a full day past deadline and I haven't seen anything worth writing on. For this, I am sorry, both to you, the readers, and the current Arts editors, and I promise that my next column will cover something more exclusive to the Big Apple than the new Jodie Foster movie, "Panic Room."

Nevertheless, the movie is worth mentioning, even if just to discourage you from seeing it. I was shocked to read in Monday's New York Times that "Panic Room" had in fact topped the weekend box office with earnings of over $30 million. Who, I thought, would continue to see the movie? Then I realized that this past weekend had in fact been the opening weekend, and I too had been among the anxious moviegoers that undoubtedly had their interest piqued by previews. I assure you, however, that the previews ("They're locking us in," and "What we want ... is in that room") not only showcase the movie's high points, but in this instance, showcase the movie's only memorable scenes.

Meg Altman (Foster) is a bitter divorcee who purchases a New Yorker's fantasy residence — a four-story brownstone on Manhattan's Upper West Side — from a sinister broker (Ian Buchanan), whose moodiness in showing the property foreshadows the looming horror. Meg and her very boyish-looking daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) move into the brownstone, which, by the way, reeks of eeriness, and on the very first night three intruders — Burnham (Forest Whitaker), Junior (Jared Leto) and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam) — predictably invade the home, after Meg, in a red wine drunken haze, can't activate the alarm system.

After realizing the intrusion, Meg wakes Sarah and the two retreat to the panic room, a small, steel encased room equipped with surveillance cameras and an emergency phone. Although completely inaccessible for outsiders — including the intruders — the panic room provides little comfort for the mother and daughter since the emergency phone hasn't been hooked up yet and, shockingly, what the intruders "want … is in that room." (Funny, in the previews, the line seemed terrifying, and yet one can't help but think, "So?" while actually watching the movie.)

Part of the problem is that the plot is completely ludicrous. Junior, the ringleader, knew the past resident and has knowledge of some $3 million hidden in the panic room. The intruders were completely surprised — not to mention discouraged — to find that boxes from the Altman family were strewn around the house. Junior had thought that "two weeks" until the new tenant moved in counted only business days. Slight glitch.

His stupidity, combined with the other two intruders' argumentativeness, makes the bad guys in the movie seem, well, not all that bad. And when they make it their mission to drive Meg and Sarah out of the panic room — how they're going to do this becomes the entire point of the movie — I found it almost anticlimactic. To be frank, there was nothing remotely scary about these guys. In fact, I wished that Meg and Sarah would just come out of the room so that they could get the money and I could go home.

That almost happens when, as luck would have it, Sarah is a diabetic and needs an insulin shot. Finally! But no, the movie manages to drag on even beyond that, and Sarah is saved by one of the intruders, who turns out to be just a really nice guy and not a guy on a mission to kill an innocent mother and daughter — not that anyone really thought that in the first place!

All this occurs in lighting only a few shades brighter than that of the movie theater, a marked trait of director David Fincher, whose credits also include "Seven" and "Fight Club." "Panic Room" does not come remotely close to matching the ingenuity of either of these movies.

To its credit, however, the movie is impressively directed and includes some (the key word being some) suspenseful camera shots.

If I haven't successfully deterred you from seeing the movie, and you know you'll see it anyway because, hey, maybe I'm wrong, allow me to suggest playing a fun game. When you've tired of the screaming girls relentlessly hiding from the bumbling bad guys, see if you can notice Foster's pregnant belly. She was, by the end of filming the movie, in her third trimester. Owing to skillful camera work, I couldn't tell at all. Perhaps entering the theater on a mission to prove Foster fat will help you pass the time.