The greatest of thrillers are those that convey sheer terror without actually showing anything particularly terrifying on screen. Panic, a haunting debut feature written and directed by Sean Spencer, comes close. Set largely in north east London, music journalist Andrew Deeley (David Gyasi), has agoraphobia and rarely leaves his home. Instead, he passes his time obsessively spying on his neighbour who lives in the tower block opposite. One day, she mysteriously disappears after a violent altercation and Deeley takes it upon himself to track her down. In doing so he unwittingly enters the dark world of human trafficking – and his quest to find this woman becomes as much of a quest to find himself.
As with many movies of this genre, it is the setting of Panic that really makes it. Long shots of concrete tower blocks and crusty alleyways add constantly to the sense of unease, bringing hints of some of the greatest film noir to London’s twilight streets. Similarities with Hitchcock’s Rear Window, too, are obvious and, like Hitchcock, Spencer makes use of a startling soundtrack to up the ante in the tensest scenes. Even when there is nothing round the corner, the jarring noise is enough to make your heart rate soar. Gyasi is brilliantly cast, giving Deeley such a peculiarity as to make you wonder if he is complicit – but also clearly in need of a saviour himself. Long, lingering close-ups of his face present his inner turmoil, and form the perfect juxtaposition to the capital’s sticky orange skyline, which frames the seedy underworld within.
Plot-wise, however, there are some drawbacks. It is difficult to get at all emotionally involved in the story of the missing woman, partly because more time is given to Deeley’s own psychological state. As the story progresses we understand why this is, but it means some of the tension falls a bit flat as, ultimately, we care much less about this victim’s situation than he does. Nonetheless, for a debut feature, Panic shows that Spencer has some remarkable potential, as well as an unflinching eye for both the most beautiful and the basest aspects of London life. The movie may not stay with you forever, but it is an eye-opening crime thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Panic is released nationwide on 18th November 2016.
Watch the trailer for Panic here: