There are some similarities between Rear Window and Panic. Both are about a man stuck inside his apartment – one due to a broken leg whilst the other is due to debilitating panic attack; both men voyeuristically watch a woman in an opposite apartment – Hitchcock’s movie is set in Greenwich Village, New York, whereas we are now in Islington, London; and, when something bad seems to happen to the woman they have been watching they decide to defy their limitations to do what they can to help. That’s about it. Whereas Rear Window leisurely yet oh-so-tensely explores its themes with care over 112 minutes Panic accelerates through its story at somewhat breakneck speed, clocking in at less than 90 minutes.
The result ends up being some bits good, some bits average and some bits just a bit naff. Whilst aiming for tense and timely, urban and thrilling it ends up falling into the what-I like-to-call, ‘Well, that esculated quickly’ genre. Although David Gyasi provides us with an excellent and totally believable performance the same cannot be said for the film itself. When the film starts music journalist Andrew Deeley (Gyasi) is riddled by the psychological trauma of a violent assault at gig eight months prior. It is implied that he the impact is so severe he has been rendered agoraphobic by it and therefore finds it impossible to leave the house. It would not be spoilerific to say that he does manages to leave the house and gets up to things that seem unlikely, even impossible for anyone.
The film proclaims that this is ‘a Taxi Driver for the 21st century’ as it ‘reveals a side of the city usually kept hidden deep in the shadows’. It certainly tries to be even if it doesn’t succeed. Much of the films albeit minor success is due to Gyasi’s performance which manages to incorporate a delicate blend of inscrutable yet empathetic. His desperate struggle to find the woman he has been watching – Kem (Cheung) – has some echoes of the bleary path of vigilante destruction caused by Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle yet the object of his search has far less development than Jodie Foster’s teenage prostitute and the world that consumes her is better sketched out than the seedy underbelly shown in ‘Panic’.
The intent of the story arc is, presumably, is to expose the exploitation of migrant labour. The film doesn’t manage to say much about it as the characters it uses to explore it are hazy one-dimensional figures who are not enough to bring this truly real issue any where near enough context or believability. It feels like there are two interesting stories here – that of the psychological scars of a brutal assault and a little-known/little-thought about criminal underworld – yet they ran out of enough thread to stitch these two separate pieces together. We are given little rhyme or reason for how and why Andrew manages to do what he ends up doing nor any reason to truly care.
Though admirable in terms of ambition and intent the film doesn’t quite make the most of its potential. It looks great, has some great moments but somehow ends up making 80-odd minutes drag on. If anything it ends up becoming a vehicle for the rising talent that is David Gyasi.
Dir: Sean Spencer
Scr: Sean Spencer
Cast: David Gyasi, Pippa Nixon, Jason Wong, Yennis Cheung, Chi Chan, Cristian Solimeno
Prd: Oliver Gray, Nuala O’Leary, Joe Wihl
Music: Christopher Nicholas Bangs
DOP: Carl Burke
Run time: 82 minutes
Panic is out in cinemas on the 11th November