Director Sean Spencer
Starring David Gyasi, Pippi Nixon, Jason Wong
Released in cinemas 18th November 2016, on demand 21st November 2016
Stuck at home in his flat, a solitary man is watching people in the adjacent blocks through his binoculars. One girl in particular catches his attention. Especially when something happens to her.
Familiar? Sean Spencer’s Panic, his debut as both feature director and screenwriter, doesn’t attempt to hide the similarities with Hitchcock’s Rear Window – it would be fruitless to try – but he does try to turn it into something more contemporary and add something new to the mix.
Music journalist Deeley (David Gyasi) is confined to his North London flat, just one in a mass of faceless blocks. He’s entertaining a visitor when they witness the girl in the neighbouring apartment being beaten – and then her blinds go down. Rather than call the police, he breaks into her home to investigate, finds it trashed and sees blood on the walls. Following the few leads he can find, he sets out to track down the girl, a journey which takes him into the Chinese criminal underworld and its vicious gangsters.
In theory, he’s more mobile than Jimmy Stewart in the Hitchcock classic. He doesn’t seem to be suffering in any way and he’s fully mobile. He’s a journalist, so he’s street savvy: he’s well built, so he looks like he can handle himself. But appearances are deceptive. He suffers from crippling agoraphobia – even approaching the front door brings on a panic attack – because he was stabbed several months ago. The physical scars are concealed, but the mental ones show themselves at the drop of a hat. And totally rule his life.
So he lives almost entirely inside four walls. There’s his massive vinyl collection, he continues working as a journalist by interviewing musicians over the phone and watches what happens outside through his binoculars. Especially the girl across the road. Much of the film is set in his apartment, although he does manage to get outside, even though his inclination to do otherwise. He finds himself in serious danger, is clubbed once, comes close to something more serious – but also gives somebody a beating himself.
As well as being set inside Deeley’s flat, the film’s wider landscape is a mass of anonymous apartment blocks, a cold, unfeeling city where you find yourself wondering what’s happening behind each and every one of those windows, some with their lights on, others dark. This is just one of their stories, one that takes us and Deeley into the darkness of people trafficking. As he digs deeper into his neighbour’s story, he discovers she’s an illegal immigrant. So technically she doesn’t exist.
If Spencer has brought anything new to the storyline, it’s the effects of trauma. Physical attacks make the news every day, but each one is soon out of the spotlight, either temporarily or for good. The after-effects on the victims receive far less attention – physical injuries and the less obvious mental ones – and we see them both, and their results, here.
It’s all brought into sharp focus through a magnetic performance from David Gyasi. He’s never off the screen and you wouldn’t want him to be. The searching, almost intrusive, camera lingers on his face, examining his emotions which range from fear and terror to burning curiosity and the determination to regain control of his life. He’s the best reason for watching the film. Panic relegates suspense to second place, well behind Deeley’s problems and Gyasi’s performance. Not that tension is completely absent and it certainly doesn’t lack style, but the focus is very much on the film’s leading man, so your nerves are hardly ever truly jangled.
Panic is in cinemas now and available on demand from Monday, 21 November.