Film Reading Exam – Scene Analysis: Panic Room (2002)

Intruders break into the house.

We see Jodie Foster in a medium shot. She wears glasses, as all people seem to in films if they are reading a book or using a computer. It shows she is concentrating. It also hints that she is a professional person. She manages to switch on a bank of monitors. This is her new security system. It shows her massive house, she is a professional person.

The fact that several monitors show room after room and staircase after staircase gives a sense of her isolation in the house. Though there is no sense of threat yet.

She gives up on the instruction manual, hinting that she does not know how to use the system, or it is not fully functional yet. She tosses her glasses down, and we get a close up of her glasses and some water.

Another character observation from the scene in isolation is the photo of her daughter, who we see later in the scene. Also an empty wine glass next to the bed, which may be why she is drinking water.

Director David Fincher has given the scene a very green tinge, which hints at a documentary style, while the cinematography and choice of shot is very fluid and high tech, which is an interesting juxtaposition.

The rain pours down outside, which, with the green tone, gives a sense of greyness and loss. An almost clinical feel. This is a house, not a home. The minimalist decor hints at a ‘just moved in’ look.

We get our first elaborate tracking shot, zooming out from Foster in the bed, going down two floors and looking out onto the street. Suspicious music and suspicious characters outside. Looking in through the window. We follow one to the front door where the camera zooms into the lock, the break-in attempt fails and the camera moves to the front of the house. As we speed through a coffee maker handle we see the house is laden with boxes, Foster has indeed just moved in.

We track to the back of the house where another would be intruder tries a jimmy in the patio doors. This also fails. We track up through the floor and look through more windows, the intruders are taking stairs and ladders to climb up the house. There is the feel of insects swarming and crawling over a carcass as they move around the outside of the building, and the tension begins to ramp up. It is clear that these people are not chancers, they are determined to get inside this building.

We briefly see Fosters bed, but not her, clever sound design means that we hear a sleepy breath and know that she is still in there.

The insect metaphor is fully realised as we track up to the skylight: A spiders web. Foster is caught in the web. Forrest Whittaker walks around the skylight and looks down. He can see her, he has the position of power and the low angle of the shot confirms this.

This is followed by a clever mis-direction, we appear to be heading through the open door, and all of the tracking shots have flowed up to this point, instead we take a quick turn and head into the partially open storage room. We witness the hatch being forced. A quiet bleep and a the flash of a digital display shows us that Section 19 has been disabled, but no alarm is triggered. Jodie really should have read those instructions. Instead we see her sleeping.

Whittaker walks through the house, going down the stairs his eyes are drawn to the child’s bathroom nightlight. They are drawn to it because it is red and everything else is green. It stands out. It is clear that this is not part of the plan from his surprised reaction, and there is clever use of shots to communicate this, without resorting to him speaking on a radio to the rest of his crew. We also see that Foster is awake at this point, taking a swig of water. He looks almost fatherly as he opens the door of the daughters room.

The fatherly-ness disappears however as he stands framed, but out of focus in Fosters bedroom doorway, Foster looks the other way and her eyes are open as the camera rotates ninety-degrees going from a horizontal to vertical shot of her close up as she lies in bed. She looks like she has something on her mind. If she looked the other way she would have. The tension is rather dampened in this scene by the fact that Whittaker has already looked in on the daughter, and not harmed her.

There is a sense of the camera as character, especially during the fluid and flowing tracking shots. We can see whats going on, the shots are showing us that, but is the camera benign? It it watching indifferently? There is also a sense of the house as a character. More so than the camera. It does not feel protective or nurturing, and is as cold and grey as the weather outside.


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