COMING WITH the hype and promises of a thriller on par with Hitchcock, this Columbia Pictures offering is lukewarm - contrived even, especially when you consider how well it has been shot. In fact it begins most interestingly with the opening credits in block letters against a glittering Manhattan buildings and a visually very alive camera (Conrad Hall, Darius Khondil) which creeps into keyholes and through doors and down floors to give that heart in the mouth feeling. In fact its movement gives a feel of the geography of the building, which comes in handy as the action progresses. But then it achieves only half of what it intended. Sometimes it not even scary except a couple of times and is tedious when it has to be taut, silly when it has to freeze the spine.
Recently divorced Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her young daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) are on the lookout for a home and they come upon a fabulous building in the upper side of Manhattan with high ceilings, looming staircases and many rooms spread across three floors. While the daughter is intrigued, the mom is taken aback when they find that the house also has a panic room off the bedroom - a vault like structure with impenetrable doors, video monitors for all the floors and rooms, medical supplies and other emergency material - in fact an ideal place for hiding in times of an emergency, house break or even war. So they move in to a grim, groaning background score (Howard Shore) and guess what happens? Invaders! Of a kind! Three of them with absolutely no agreement among themselves and who bicker and swear when they discover that the house is not empty, as they had imagined. And it appears that they already had plans of breaking into the house for a hidden treasure known only to them.
Comprising of Burnham (Forest Whitaker) the mastermind, Junior (Jared Jeto) the jittery accomplice with the knowledge of the booty inside, and the masked Raol (Dwight Yoakam) who comes in as a surprise third element. Waking up in time to get herself and her daughter into the panic room, Meg tries to get the intruders out of the house. On their part, they try all kinds of threatening measures to get the mother and daughter out of the room, which also includes gassing out the chamber. After all the booty is in that vault. And so the movie revolves round the manoeuvres of the mother and the intruders.
At one point Meg has to get some medicine for Sarah and the haven becomes a trap; attempts to use a phone with wires ripped from the wall, communication through Morse code through a hole in the room to the neighbour for help, and other survival tactics culminate in a finale that is just about worthwhile. Otherwise, the machinations of the bad guys are intolerable.
Directed by David Fincher, the film contains few genuine surprises and has Jodie Foster (who was roped in after Nicole Kidman couldn't do the role) who has done better before. But she is tough and steely and the audiences are with her most of the time - Kristen plays the rather morose kid, adequately.
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