Panic Room: Screenplay Structure

Panic Room is a fast movie – and what do I mean with this? Unlike a Quentin Tarantino movie or a mumblecore flick, each line, every shot, etc. has a point in this film. Panic Room was written by David Koepp – the sixth most successful screenwriter in the United States who is also known for adapting the screenplay for Jurassic Park and writing the first Spider-Man. It stars Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, and Jared Leto and is directed by David Fincher. Let’s dive right into breaking down Panic Room: 

Act 1: Set-Up

The movie opens with a tour of a new mansion. There is Meg and her pre-teen daughter Sarah. Meg and Sarah are different, and it is shown in the moving. Meg is a bit more fragile minded, as she suffers from claustrophobia (when they’re closed off later in the Panic Room) and Sarah is a bit more athletic (rides a scooter around the house, has tomboyish look.) When they are touring the house, Meg’s friend comments that “he can afford it” thus implying a divorce. In the house tour, they set up the Panic Room; a pivotal location for the film and also an introduction to a weakness to the main character Meg.

As Meg and Sarah get settled in their new home, their relationship is tense but somewhat understanding. The divorce has been hard on them; as we can see from Sarah’s attitude and Meg’s drinking and crying in the bathtub. We also learn that Sarah is diabetic through glimpses of insulin in the fridge, and mini fridge by her door, and her special watch. They both go to bed for the night.

Act 1: Catalyst

Two home invaders, Junior and Burnham, break into the house after several attempts to enter. Junior is shown as flaky, hyper, and greedy. Burnham, a constructor of panic rooms like the one in the house, wants money too, but it’s on a more personal level. He will steal, but hurting people is not his forte. Junior: “I want the money but you need it.” We are also introduced to Raoul, a third burglar with a mask over his face. He has a gun and is not afraid to use it, making him the unsteady one in the group.

Meg notices the burglars and rushes to get Sarah. Just in the nick of time, they make it to the Panic Room where they are trapped in.

PLOT POINT 1: Sarah and Meg want to stay in the Panic Room for their own safety. The invaders want the money in the room, thus wanting Sarah and Meg out.

Act 1: Debate

The invaders try various ways to try to get Meg and Sarah to come out. First, they try to bargain with them, but Meg doesn’t trust them.

Break into Act 2: Transition from Act 1 to Act 2A

Then, the men lock them in the house so in case they do get out of the panic room, they can’t get out of the house. After that, they try to break through the floor, but because of the steel floor, it’s impossible. And after that, they flood the room with gasoline. It works at first, but then Meg and Sarah find a small opening in which to breathe the outside air. The gasoline backfires – literally – and engulfs Junior’s body with flames. He gets it out in time, but it scars.

On Meg and Sarah’s side, they make several attempts to call for help; like using Morse Code with a flashlight. They then get a hold of a phone, but the burglars cut them off before they can properly communicate.

Act 2A-Act 2B Transition: The Mid-point

Meanwhile, the home invaders argue about the money after Junior slips up and states there’s more. Raoul kills Junior, forcing Burnham to finish the robbery. This is the midpoint for the invaders.

panic room 1

The midpoint for the women trapped in the panic room is the “switch” when they now want to exit the panic room. Sarah’s blood sugar is dropping, and Meg needs to get the insulin, which is outside of the panic room.

Act 2B: Tensions Rise

Stephen, the ex, arrives at the robbery and is beaten and taken hostage. This raises the stakes even more. Sarah then suffers a seizure – Meg wants the emergency medicine for her but it’s not the panic room.

Meg leaves the room to get the syringe, but Burnham enters it. Meg and Burnham fight. In the tussle, Meg is now locked outside of the room with Raoul, Burnham, and Sarah locked in. Now it’s really dangerous – the daughter is with the invaders. But now, Meg has the gun and at least the syringe is with Sarah.

Meg begs the intruders to give her the medicine, and after a while, Burnham does so because he is a father himself.

PLOT POINT 2: The police show up.

Act 2 Ends, Act 3 Begins

The police arrive at the house which causes wildcard Raoul to threaten Sarah, with the intention of forcing Meg to send them away. She does, to save her daughter.

The intruders find the money and use Sarah as a hostage as they leave. Meg hist Raoul with a weapon, causing Burnham to flee. Stephen comes in just in time as he shoots at Raoul – but he misses! He stands over Meg ready to kill her, but just in time, Burnham shoots Raoul when he comes back – saving the Altmans.

The police arrive again and capture Burnham. He lets the money go. At the end of the film, Meg and Sarah search for a new place.

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