Home Alone

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It is, of course, a dark and stormy night. And there is, naturally, something unnameably spooky about the New York City brownstone into which the edgy, newly divorced Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) have just moved. They have scarcely hit the sack when, sure enough, intruders arrive, squabbling among themselves with menacing fractiousness.

One of them, Junior (Jared Leto), a relative of the eccentric former owner, knows that millions of dollars are still hidden in the house. His nasty surprise is that the house is occupied; he thought the house was still being held in escrow, which would keep it empty longer. The Altmans' nasty surprise is that the loot is hidden in the eponymous Panic Room, the house's steel-encased, supposedly impenetrable retreat of last resort.

It turns out to be ill equipped (to begin with, the phone doesn't work) and quite breachable by determined miscreants. This movie, written by David Koepp, is a fairly standard exercise in claustrophobic menace. It is also an exercise in style. If you like director David Fincher's manner--a fluid camera moving quickly through underlighted, underfurnished spaces--you may find it more artful than the usual stalker movie.

On the other hand, the auteur of Seven and Fight Club has never had a gift for making his characters likable (though Forest Whitaker does what he can to humanize one of the robbers). His talent is for sadism that is at once passionate and casual--and for turning what might be perfectly enjoyable genre films into faux-modernist art objects: ambitious but also cold, ugly and distancing.

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