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Panic, written and directed by Sean Spencer, is a decent thriller with good performances that doesn’t leave much of an impression when all is said and done.
Music journalist Andrew Deeley (David Gyasi) lives alone in a high-rise tower block. He’s cut himself off from the rest of the world and spends his nights watching his neighbors, particularly a young Chinese woman who lives across his building. When a guest of his witnesses her kidnapping, Andrew tries to report the incident to the police, but fails. With little to go on and his own anxieties to deal with on top of everything else, Andrew sets out to help out a woman he’s never met – and he might be her last hope.
Panic has a slow, methodical pace that pays off quite nicely. We’re not immediately told why Andrew lives alone and works from home, or why he creepily watches his neighbor with binoculars – and the movie is comfortable enough to take its time in introducing his backstory. The approach fits the minimalist feel of the narrative and characterization and the pace moves at just the right speed, keeping you intrigued from moment to moment.
Over time, you start to understand why Andrew is such a shut-in and why he might do something as reckless and seemingly stupid as trying to resolve a dangerous situation on his own. His investigation takes him to some pretty dark places and Gyasi captures the character’s awkward conviction well, enough to make him a believable and even relatable.
The problem with Panic is that it seems content with merely being a good movie. There’s no real sense of ambition or aspiration to the narrative or the characters. They are well-written and played by good actors, and the movie itself explores some interesting aspects of London’s dark underbelly, but it all feels detached. Whenever Andrew has a panic attack, it plays out like a character moment – his anxiety is present, but it does not resonate to the audience. In other words, Panic is good at showing, but not so much at making the audience experience the emotions at hand.
You never really feel that Andrew is in real danger, even in situations in which he’s being threatened or hurt. The answers to the movie’s questions, both in terms of character motivations and the mystery itself are satisfying only in that they make logical sense. The plot synopsis promises that Andrew is “armed with only an Oyster card and a hammer” and while that’s technically true, it’s nowhere near as interesting or exciting as it sounds. It’s just exactly what it says on the tin.
Panic is a thriller with a good sense of pace and character, but little to no thrills – competent, but not particularly memorable.
Panic is out in theaters on November 18 and on demand on November 21 in the UK.