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Film / Panic Room

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Raoul: Hey! What is funny about this?... Is this shit funny to you?
Burnham: Well, I spent the last 12 years of my life building these rooms specifically to keep out people like us.

A 2002 thriller film directed by David Fincher, starring Jodie Foster and a young Kristen Stewart.

Recently-divorced Meg Altman (Foster) and her 12-year-old daughter Sarah (Stewart) move into a four-story Manhattan brownstone which has a fortified "panic room" in case of home invasion. Late at night, three burglars — Burnham (Forest Whitaker), Junior (Jared Leto), and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam) — break in looking for money hidden in the house by the previous owner. The two women lock themselves up in the room, but are unable to call for help. Worse yet, the money was stored in the panic room and the burglars have no issue going through the new owners to get it (also, originally unbeknownst to them, it was far more than they had been told it was, and in the form of bearer bonds).

A box-office hit upon its release, it introduced the concept of "panic rooms" and "safe rooms" into public knowledge.


Do not confuse it for the videogame level of the same name in both Payday The Heist and PAYDAY 2 (the latter being a remake of the former).

This film contains examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Meg starts to become one towards the end of the film, notably when she whacks Raoul across the head with a sledgehammer.
  • Adult Fear: Several instances. Having one's home broken into and the lives of yourself and your child threatened, having to watch your child have a seizure due to diabetic hypoglycemia while you can do absolutely nothing about it, having your child trapped alone in a room with the people who have invaded your home...
  • All for Nothing: By the end of the film, Raoul and Junior are dead and Burnham is arrested. To add insult to injury, as he's being ordered to stand down to be handcuffed, the satchel with the MacGuffin stocks that were inside the panic room opens and they fly off in the wind.
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  • Ambiguous Syntax: When Junior is going over all the relatives he has to share the money with if it gets found, he says "Stephen, Jeffrey, Catherine, David. Five grandkids." It's unclear if he means he and the other four are the five grandkids (and the only heirs), or he means five grandkids, and the other four people. Burnham seems to think it's the later, commenting that Junior just named eight people he had to share with.
  • Amusing Injuries: Averted. Junior getting set on fire is portrayed realistically and painfully.
  • Anti-Villain: Burnham. It's revealed that the only reason he took the job was because he needed the money to afford a custody lawyer. In addition, he refuses to harm anyone and is horrified at the lengths his fellow burglars are willing to go to.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Burnham to Junior:
    Burnham: This is what I do; if some idiot with a sledgehammer could break in do you really think I'd still have a job?
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: The propane gas the burglars pour into the panic room (which is then lit by Meg) would fall to the ground instead of sticking to the ceiling as it does in the movie.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: Averted, BUT can be interpreted as one if you are unfamiliar with Type 1 Diabetes. The daughter has diabetes, and when in the panic room they try to find food to give her (which would heighten her blood sugar level) as her blood sugar drops; when they can't find any they give her a shot instead. Many unfamiliar with diabetes think this is an INSULIN shot (which is used to lower the blood sugar). However, she is injected with a drug called Glucogon, which is used to quickly raise a diabetic's blood sugar - so the portrayal is accurate, but can easily be taken as a mistake if you are unfamiliar with diabetes.
  • Ax-Crazy: Raoul. The man carries a gun and isn't afraid of using it... and shooting people in the head is the more merciful thing he does throughout the film.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Junior. He tries to be a criminal mastermind, but the idiot pulls off a barrage of poor decisions, starting with not being able to figure out the exact amount of time he had to pull off the heist and ending with hiring a maniac looking for a reason to kill people... which he gave him by telling him that they were pulling out.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Just as it looks as though Raoul is going to murder Meg while Sarah watches helplessly, Burnham, who was previously making a getaway with the money, returns and shoots Raoul in the head, after deciding that he can't just let Meg and Sarah die.
  • Big Fancy House: Meg buys the ridiculously huge house for just herself and her daughter to stick it to her rich ex-husband for a messy divorce. It even has an elevator!
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Pearlstine's, even though Junior is the only one to appear onscreen. Old Sidney Pearlstine kept half of his money hidden in a panic room, his kids started suing each other as soon as he disappeared and Junior (one of his grandchildren) tries to break into the house and steal the money.
  • Bluffing the Authorities: Meg has to do it when two policemen ring her bell.
  • Book Dumb: Lydia has a moment like this:
    Meg: Ever read any Poe?
    Lydia: No, but I loved her last album.
  • Boom, Headshot!: How Junior and Raoul meet their ends.
  • Bottle Movie: Aside from a very brief prologue and epilogue, the movie takes place over one night and within the house.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Junior keeps berating Ax-Crazy Raoul over and over again. Raoul finally ends the bullying with a headshot.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: The police arrives after the big fight. All they have to do is to arrest Burnham who was fleeing.
  • Cell Phones Are Useless: Meg makes a dash into the bedroom and grabs her cell phone, but the steel-plated walls of the panic room are too thick to get a signal, turning the place into a dead zone.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The sledgehammer used by Raoul to smash the ceiling later gets utilised by Meg to smash the security cameras, lights, and mirrors, and to use as a weapon.
  • Closed Circle: Meg and Sarah are trapped in the panic room, and the thieves won't leave until they get the money inside. Later, the situation gets inverted: when Meg attempts to get Sarah's diabetes shots, Burnham and Raoul get inside and lock Meg out. However, Meg also has a gun, and there's only one way out of the room.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: A fair bit of Junior and Raoul's dialogue. Especially when the latter is really mad.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Raoul's treatment of Stephen.
  • Comic Trio: Although they aren't exactly comedic, the burglars fit the role nicely. Junior's the navigator, Raoul is the driver and Burnham's in the backseat.
  • Conscience Makes You Go Back: Burnham has the bonds and is leaving the house, but can't bring himself to leave Meg, Sarah and Stephen to die, so he returns and shoots Raoul down.
  • Cover Innocent Eyes and Ears: Meg shields Sarah's eyes from Junior being killed by Raoul.
  • Curse Cut Short: Invoked. The panic room has cameras around the house, but not audio. When Burnham silently informs Meg and Sarah that he knows they don't have a phone line — rendering their previous threat of having called the cops moot — we then hear Junior say "You're full of sh—" before it cuts to a panic room shot of him swearing silently on camera.
  • Cut Phone Lines: The thieves cut the main phone lines of the house to prevent Meg and her daughter from calling out, while the phone in the titular room is on a different line but hasn't been installed yet. However, Junior simply cut the cord of the kitchen phone, not the entire line. Meg manages to jury rig the panic room's phone into the main line and get a call for help out before the thieves disconnect the lines for real.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Evan, the guy showing Meg around the house at the beginning.
    • Being a smartass is also one of Sarah's defining character traits from the start of the film.
    • Even Raoul gets in the act, when he's still The Stoic.
    *Junior smashes a mirror in frustation*
    Raoul: That's seven years' bad luck.
  • The Determinator: Raoul. Despite having his fingers crushed, getting shot, taking a sledgehammer to the face, falling over a railing and hitting the floor, breaking some bones, and getting stabbed by Sarah, he still attempts to kill Meg, until Burnham steps in.
  • Didn't Want an Adventure: A villain variation; the house was supposed to be empty when the burglars came.
  • Drop the Hammer: Meg uses a sledgehammer on Raoul (his attempt to do the same fails). Earlier, she uses it to break the security cameras.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: In a rare turn from a David Fincher film, Raoul and Junior are killed, Burnham redeems himself and Meg and Sarah survive and look for a new house.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: From one floor down to another, through keyholes and coffeemakers.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Junior has a one of these, when he discovers to his chagrin that Meg and Sarah are already in the house, he explains that when the realtors told him how many days it would be before they moved in, he assumed they meant business days.
    • Raoul's completely casual murder of Junior. Burnham is understandably horrified.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Most of the film unfolds over a single night.
  • Eye Scream: Raoul has his right eye blown out from behind by Burnham.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Sarah learned "SOS" from Titanic (1997), and attempts to signal a neighbor by flashing it through a vent. It doesn't work.
  • Fingore: Raoul loses at least two of his fingers and most likely broke the rest of them when the panic room door slams shut on them, after he had his hand positioned out of range of the door sensors. Once the loot is scored, we see Raoul pick them up while leaving the panic room.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Burnham is phlegmatic, Junior is choleric and Raoul is melancholic.
  • Genius Bruiser: Burnham is the biggest guy on screen (though he doesn't actually do much fighting), and he is also by far the most intelligent; he shows a level of competence in various fields and a resourcefulness equal to Meg's.
  • Glad I Thought of It: When Burnham and Raoul begin to hatch their plan with the propane gas, Junior chimes in from the sidelines, "I was just thinking we should do something like this!"
  • Gut Punch: See Raoul's Establishing Character Moment.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Burnham, who goes back to save Meg and Sarah from Raoul.
  • Hope Spot: Several - one of which being when Meg and Sarah think they might have managed to alert one of their neighbors to their plight... and he simply closes his bedroom blinds in annoyance, believing their signal to be a faulty light.
  • Howl of Sorrow: Meg lets out a howl of despair and rage when Raoul starts to severely beat Stephen, while all she can do is watch helplessly.
  • I Have No Idea What I'm Doing: Meg's response when trying to wire the panic room phone into the main line.
  • Irony: The fact that a panic room Burnham built is keeping him and his crew from accomplishing their burglary. This is not lost on him.
  • The Key Is Behind the Lock: The movie's premise is basically this, but one bit highlights this in particular. When trying to lure out Meg and Sarah by filtering propane gas into the panic room, Burnham warns Raoul not to crank the gas too high. When Junior scoffs that the worst that can happen is that Meg and Sarah pass out, Burnham asks him how they plan to get into the room if the occupants are passed out.
  • Large Ham: Jared Leto as Junior.
  • Lima Syndrome: Two of the housebreakers accidentally end up taking hostages when the supposedly empty house was occupied earlier than expected, and then find themselves locked in the panic room with a girl about to slip into a hypoglycemic coma. One of them is an Ax-Crazy murderer who talks about needing to kill her since she's seen his face, but the other one does everything he can to prevent her getting hurt. In the end, he gives up his opportunity to escape with the loot so that he can rescue the girl and her mother (who had come pretty close to killing him a couple of times) from his deranged accomplice.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Sarah.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: Raoul wears a ski mask throughout most of the film, until he removes it in order to put it on Stephen and trick Meg.
  • Mama Bear: Meg will do anything to protect Sarah, even threatening to kill Burnham and Raoul if they let Sarah die.
    • Sarah attempts to return the favor, stabbing Raoul repeatedly with a handful of hypodermic needles when he attacks Meg.
  • MockGuffin: Subverted at first, the safe appears to be empty.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Meg spends most of the movie in a low-cut halter top.
  • Never Hurt an Innocent: Burnham, who refuses to take physical action ("I told you, I don't hurt people") and intervenes when Junior's and Raoul's tactics get out of hand.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Meg's decision to temporarily leave the panic room to get her cell phone from under her bed would have gone smoothly...had she not decided to run out like a bat out of hell and clumsily reach for her phone in a panic. She inadvertently knocks over a bed lamp and alerts the burglars, giving them just enough time to interfere with Meg and Sarah's plan to call for help at the last second.
  • No Name Given: The three burglars are never referred to by their full names, only going by one name each.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted. Meg is shown going to the toilet in the middle of the night and her urinating is audible. There's also a conspicuous toilet in the panic room, although no one uses it.
  • Not Quite Dead: Stephen is assumed dead by Meg, until she discovers that, although badly injured, he's still alive.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Meg, when she notices the three intruders on the panic room's security feeds.
    • Later, Burnham has such a reaction when he can hear Meg trying to ignite the gas.
      Burnham: Turn the gas off. [...] Turn the gas off right now.
    • Sarah has a similar reaction when she realizes what her mom is about to do.
      Sarah: Oh my God.
  • The Oner: A long pan from Meg fitfully dozing down to Burnham trying the front door, then across to him trying the back door and finally right up to the ceiling where he breaks through the skylight.
  • Only Sane Man: Burnham.
  • Papa Wolf: Stephen Altman. He doesn't have the opportunity to do much after Raoul captures and tortures him, but he gets points for calling the police in the first place.
  • Pet the Dog: Junior does toss some money at Raoul and Burnham after deciding to give up and go home (albeit in a somewhat condescending fashion).
  • Police Are Useless: Played with and ultimately averted: Meg calls 911, only to be put on hold. She then calls Stephen for help, only for the burglars to cut the cord, but not before Stephen gets suspicious and calls the police himself. They show up and confront Meg at the front door, and do indeed notice that something is horribly wrong. They later return with a SWAT-squad.
  • P.O.V. Cam: When Meg gets Raoul's gun and points it at the panic room, ready for the bad guys to emerge, there's a shot from her point of view looking down the length of the gun.
  • Precision F-Strike: Meg is so bad at this her twelve-year-old daughter has to tell her how, and even then she screws it up. On the other hand...
    Meg: Put him on the phone, bitch!
    • Sarah gets one early in the movie when Meg is still feeling down about their family situation.
    Sarah: Fuck him.
    Meg: Don't.
    Sarah: Fuck her, too.
    Meg: I agree, but don't.
  • Protect This House
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Burnham. And, unlike Junior and Raoul, he refuses to hurt people.
  • Rape as Drama: Early in the movie, Meg and Sarah are in the panic room looking at the intruders on the closed-circuit TV, Sarah asks why the men are there. Meg replied that the robbers may want to rob them or ... something else. She trails off without finishing the thought, but it's clear that (as she doesn't think there's much of particular value in the house), she is worried about being raped.
    • Later, after Sarah has ended up locked in the panic room with the burglars the first thing Meg says after being reunited is "Did they hurt you? Did they touch you?" in a tone of voice that clearly shows how terrified she was that this might have happened.
  • Revenge Before Reason: During the climax, Raoul, rather than escape the house with the bearer bonds along with Burnham, decides to stay behind and try to murder Meg, Sarah and Stephen for causing him so much trouble, in spite of his numerous horrible injuries. This comes back to bite him when Burnham decides he can't just leave the Altmans to die.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Writer David Koepp got the idea for the film from an article in The New York Times about "safe rooms" and getting stuck inside an elevator in his own brownstone.
  • Rule of Cool: The three dimensional opening credits that look like they're floating above various shots of the New York City skyline.
  • Saying Too Much: While discussing splitting the money, Junior casually notes that he'll be walking away with $800,000-900,000. The others realize that, with the other grandchildren and Junior's likely being a black sheep of the family, there's way more in the panic room safe than he initially let on.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Raoul after getting the panic room door slammed shut on his hand.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Junior. It is debatable whether Raoul would have actually let him leave anyway, but muttering loudly to yourself information that shows you've been lying to your fellow criminals is not a good idea.
  • Shower of Angst: Downplayed; Meg, still broken over her husband leaving her, weeps in the bathtub and downs a glass of wine.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Junior and Raoul.
  • The Sociopath: Raoul.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: Raoul, unless he's genuinely angry.
  • The Stoic: Raoul... at first.
  • Stupid Crooks: This trope is Junior all over. The reason why they are breaking into the home on that specific night is because he knew, when he was putting the plan together, that he had five days to break in before the house was sold, but he thought that it was five business days, not actual days. He also is stupid enough to mutter Too Much Information too loudly around his goons, letting Burnham figure out that they are being stiffed on their cut. And while he made a good call by hiring Burnham, his only contact with Raoul was riding in Raoul's bus every day, so he didn't had any knowledge that Raoul was a Psycho for Hire looking for a reason to kill. This one costs him his life.
  • Technicolor Fire: The propane fire Meg ignites is bright blue.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Shooting Junior well and truly dead doesn't stop Raoul from putting another bullet into his head, just because he can.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Raoul, unlike Burnham who is good-hearted and Junior who is too dumb.
  • Trigger Happy: Raoul, although Junior clearly doesn't know just how much of a psychopathic lunatic he really is until it's too late.
  • Two-Faced: When Junior gets set on fire, he ends up with considerable burns on the right side of his face and arm.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Twice.
    • First with the burglars' plan to swap clothes with Stephan to lure Meg out of the safe room. This goes off as well as planned.
    • Second with Meg's plan to lure the burglars' out and to a specific place of her choosing so they'll be trapped between Stephan armed with the gun and her armed with the sledgehammer. While it goes mostly to plan, Reality Ensues mainly because Stephan's not able to aim well due to his injuries, and a sledgehammer is a really difficult weapon for a small-framed woman to wield effectively.
  • Villain Ball: The thieves lampshade their idiocy when Meg destroys the cameras when she is trapped outside of the room and they inside, hiding her and allowing her to set up ambushes. They note they should have done that too.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Raoul starts to go off the deep end after having his fingers severed and mangled, but doesn't fully lose it until Meg whacks him in the head with a sledgehammer, knocking him down the stairs and presumably breaking several more bones, opting to try and murder the Altmans instead of getting out with the bearer bonds.
  • Why Didn't I Think of That?: When Raoul sees Meg taking out the cameras with the robbers' sledgehammer, he reacts, "Why the hell didn't we do that?"
  • Would Hurt a Child: Raoul implies that he plans to kill Sarah, and at one point outright threatens to do it. He also punches her across the room in the final fight.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Junior believes he's the Diabolical Mastermind, that Raoul is the Dumb Muscle and Burnham is The Smart Guy. Turns out, he was only right about the last one. Junior even points out that Raoul talks like a Raymond Chandler character and he should cut it out because it's not an intimidating way of talking in Real Life... kind of forgetting what noir villains like to do.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Meg and Burnham are quite well matched in this regard, and engage in a lot of this as they try to outmaneuver each other.
  • Your Cheating Heart: The reason Meg and Stephen divorced is because of the latter having an affair.


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