Physically and psychologically scarred after a brutal attack, agoraphobic music journalist Andrew (Interstellar’s David Gyasi) lives a solitary existence, hermetically sealed in his high-rise flat, never leaving, his only contact with the outside world other than online sex dating is spying on neighbouring flats through a pair of binoculars, becoming infatuated with the young Chinese woman, Kem (Yennis Cheung), who lives in the flat opposite. 

When, after a spot of recreational sex, Amy (Pippa Nixon), the married woman looking for a one-night he’s met on a Tinder-esque dating site, peers through his binoculars and witnesses Kem’s apparent violent kidnap, she is reluctant to jeopardise her marriage by reporting it to the police, leaving Andrew alone. Increasingly obsessed with finding and saving Kem, Andrew finds himself forced to risk everything by leaving behind his well-ordered existence and venturing out into the hostile night… 

An urban vigilante thriller that singularly fails to thrill, Panic desperately wants to be thought of as a modern Rear Window, an English take on The Bedroom Window or a 21st century Taxi Driver but instead just feels like a film made by someone who has seen all of those films and decided to assemble his own from filched trims. So we have a housebound hero who spies on his neighbours (Rear Window, Body Double, Disturbia), whose illicit booty call witnesses a violent act but refuses to do the decent thing and call the cops (Curtis Hanson’s underrated The Bedroom Window), forcing the increasingly obsessed hero to take the law into his own hands (Taxi Driver) with a claw hammer (Oldboy). Stir in a little human trafficking, some prostitution and a couple of panic attacks, bleach the resulting mix of incidence and urgency and flatly film it like a mid-90s Dazed & Confused lifestyle shoot and you pretty much have Panic. Though, why he never just goes to the cops himself is never addressed.

As the tortured hero, David Gyasi is bland, colourless, an asexual peeping tom, a weirdo with all the weird bits sanded off, Spencer at great pains to make him likable, relatable, sympathetic. Which makes him boring. Essentially Panic is what Paul Schrader would term “a man in his room” film but Spencer lacks the confidence to simply have his man be in his room, alone, eaten alive by his own thoughts and desires, his need to connect.

He’s not the sociopathic loner of Taxi Driver, the nobody who wants to be a somebody. He’s not the narcissistic pretty-boy of American Gigolo, the needy ex-junkie of Light Sleeper. Rather than a man in the depths of an existential crisis, Spencer’s protagonist is simply a bit mopey, a bit anxious and fainty in the face of conflict.

Gyasi’s Andrew is less a protagonist and more a raw wound, traumatised by an assault he’s retreated into the fortress of his apartment and doesn’t even feel secure enough to take off his t-shirt during an online booty call, his pained expression as he investigates the disappearance of the girl he’s stalking (yes, he is a stalker, well, he would be if he left his bloody flat!) implies not a man battling his inner demons but a man whose just eaten some dodgy Mexican food and desperately needs to find a toilet, his detective skills consisting simply of breaking into the object of his affection’s flat and then staking out the Chinese takeaway whose menu he finds in Kem’s flat.

Never once do we feel he’s a threat to Kem himself; he’s too nice, too fundamentally decent. But sexual obsession isn’t nice, it isn’t decent. It’s dirty and it’s threatening and it’s disturbing. And it’s human. Andrew, it is implied, has watched Kem from afar for months, has fallen in love with her, become obsessed with her, has been the victim of violence, is traumatised, vulnerable. Yet his obsession is chaste. Pure. There’s nothing lascivious in his surveillance, nothing lustful.

Alone in her flat he doesn’t take advantage, doesn’t raid her knicker drawer, sniff her pants, wank like a chimp. He’s a gentleman, interested only in saving her from a life of vice. But it’s Travis Bickle’s creepy psychosexual neediness that makes him an empathetic protagonist in Taxi Driver, Jeff Jeffries of Rear Window’s implied sexual dysfunction and voyeurism that makes him compelling. A man in his room film is only as interesting as the man in his room. And Spencer’s hero just isn’t interesting enough to hold your interest for 80-odd minutes. Ponderous and shallow, Panic is a film that lacks even a mild sense of panic.

Movie Review: Panic
2.0Overall Score
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