A divorced woman and her diabetic daughter take refuge in their newly-purchased house's safe room, when three men break-in, searching for a missing fortune.
The premise alone - a fragile mother who has recently been left by her husband and her daughter alone in a massive new home - would give some people the creeps. But add in a robbery and you've got what they call a perfect storm. Set within the confines of one house during one night, the concept has the least scope of all of the directors movies, but this simplistic nature is one of the movies strengths.
The movie opens as they're being shown round the house, they move through large empty spaces with the windows closed, the light is strange darkness. The movie spans one single night and never strays from the intimidating perpetual bleak shadow-filled light. This atmosphere is compounded by the use of the “pathetic fallacy” - the cliché use of rain in scary or depressing situations - and the subtle colour tone, filled with greys.
The initial setup is so well done that the conflict arrives after only fifteen minutes. The introduction of the three perpetrators is done by an incredibly long tracking shot, which follows the men as they try and break in to the property. The single shot lasts two and a half minutes, moves from the bottom of the house to the top and back again, and makes very good use of CGI to piece it all together in to a seamless sequence.
The dynamics between the three robbers is beautiful introduction. The quiet gentle giant, who is the brains behind the operation, played by Forest Whitaker, the frantic and desperate leader played by Jared Leto and the mysterious masked outsider (Dwight Yoakam). Each trait is obvious from the a single taut scene and is left to simmer for the rest of the movie. The dialogue is minimal yet intelligently scripted and delivered.
There are some really great high tension scenes scattered throughout the film which are punctuated with action set pieces, all building the suspense to it's final climatic scene. Add to the dark visual tone a simple yet haunting string-based soundtrack and you've got two more ingredients of a top-notch thriller.
Although Panic Room is Fincher's shortest movie, coming in at under one hour fifty minutes, every scene is well considered, there is very little which could be cut and has a perfect balance of story setup, suspense, action and characterisation.