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In medieval times it was called the castle keep. The 20th century gave way to bomb shelters, evolving into storm shelters. Now, even the White House has a Situation Room-a secure, high-tech complex located in the building's basement that has been in existence since the Kennedy administration.

In the movie Panic Room, it consists of four concrete walls, a buried phone line not connected to the house's main line, its own ventilation system and a bank of surveillance monitors that covers nearly every corner of the house-all protected from the world as we know it by an impenetrable door made of thick steel.

The panic room.

Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) move into a New York brownstone equipped with a panic room, unaware of how soon they will need it. But when three men stage a seamless late night break in, Meg and Sarah take a stand from the sanctuary of the panic room not realizing that the room itself is their target... and the intruders will stop at nothing to get inside.

"This eccentric millionaire had built this panic room so that if anybody came to steal his money, he could protect himself," says Foster. "This room is pretty special. It has eight video monitors with cameras all over the house. It has stashes of things that you might need-a fire blanket, a fire starter. It has water, so that if you needed to stay there for a month, you could."

The more crime, terrorism and international kidnappings have come to dominate American newscasts, the more ubiquitous the 'panic room'-an impregnable space to retreat to in the event of an armed intrusion-has become. Fear, paranoia and protective instincts are the ultimate motivators, especially for those who have the means to do something about it. And though statistics have shown crime in general to be on the decline, "people take action based on their perception of risk rather than the actual risk," said Jeff Fryrear of the National Crime Prevention Institute in Louisville in The New York Times piece, "The New 'God Forbid' Room."

"The more insecure we are, the deeper we retreat," said Edward J. Blakely, the dean of USC's School of Urban Planning, in the same article.

"The paranoia levels right now are absolutely staggering," a maker of Spycams told The Wall Street Journal As Americans gain access and interest in more sophisticated forms of protection such as spy cameras, phone tap detectors and computer keyboard trackers, sales in such civilian spy-gear shot from 30 to 60 percent in the past year, helping turn security and surveillance into a $5 billion industry. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles-based Bolide International sold 3,200 Spycams alone in the past two months-double the number at this time last year.

In Southern California, a pervading sense of unease among studio and other business moguls has driven the demand for safe rooms to unprecedented levels. Gary Paster, a California-based builder, built his first safe room for an entertainment industry figure in 1980. Paster told The Los Angeles Business ]ournal that he has gone from building roughly six safe rooms a year in the early '90s to now more than 60.

Paster's safe rooms, which can cost from the middle thousands up to $100,000, are comprised of special security doors made of bullet-resistant "Armortex" and electromagnetic locks built to withstand everything from baseball bats to 9mm automatic gunfire. Most popular are security doors that turn an unassuming walk-in closet or bathroom into a safe room.

According to Javier Trevino, the president of Safeguard Security Services Inc. in San Antonio, which manufactures Armortex "wall armor," the numbers continue to climb. "The beauty is, you can wallpaper it, cover it with Sheetrock, and you never know there is armor on the wall," he told The New York Times.


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