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BY ROSIE KNIGHT The entire existence of Escape Room is a weird meta exercise in time being a flat circle. Without films like Saw, Cube, Exam, Fermat’s Room, and a variety of other trapped-in-a-room films, the contemporary craze of escape rooms would likely not exist. And now we have a film which takes that craze and uses it as a set-up to create a film in the mold of those which inspired the trend. In that way, watching Escape Room is kind of like being in one of the titular attractions if the one you chose was themed entirely around ’00s locked room movies.
Adam Robitel’s PG-13 thriller is certainly not an original film, but it is relatively entertaining and will likely be most enjoyable to the pre-teens who the film is clearly aimed at. One of the film’s biggest missteps comes right at the beginning with a completely unnecessary in medias res opening. It sucks some of the joy out of the film and doesn’t fulfill its clear goal of trying to trick the audience into thinking they know the sole survivor whilst still managing to reveal far too much. But the one positive is a very obvious Cube nod as the puzzle at the center of the sequence looks just like one of the lit panels that make up the trap from the iconic low budget indie chiller.
Escape Room centers around a group of lost and lonely souls who are all invited to a mysterious… escape room. None of them seem to question this inexplicable situation and we even get a pretty hilarious electro-scored puzzle-solving montage as they each try to open the Hellraiser-style puzzle boxes which have been sent to them in lieu of traditional invites. John Carey and Brian Tyler’s soundtrack really adds to the mid ’00s vibe with every possible moment filled with pulsing electronic music which — along with the conceit — immediately makes you feel like you’re watching a horror film from at least ten years ago.
All the archetypes are covered here from Jay Ellis’ cutthroat businessman Jason to Logan Miller’s stoner burnout Ben. They’re joined by video game geek Danny (played by Nik Dodani), who has a criminally short amount of screen time. Tyler Labine plays Mike, a blue collar trucker who appears to also be the comic relief. The group is rounded out by Deborah Ann Woll’s PTSD suffering vet, and the breakout star of the film, Taylor Russell, who brings the shy but blisteringly intelligent Zoey to life with a charm and energy that immediately makes her the center of the group.
Shockingly, the crew gets trapped in the escape room almost immediately and from there on in it’s all out chaos as Robitel and co. present more and more outrageous set pieces. These include: a reception area that turns into a giant oven; a snowy vista complete with mountains and ice fishing; and most impressive of all, a brilliant practical set depicting an upside down pool bar. Escape Room’s visuals elevate it above expectations of how a movie that cost $10 million dollars can look. The inverted bar sequence is easily the film’s highlight as the cast crawl around the set whilst the ceiling/floor falls away beneath them revealing a 20-story drop. Deborah Ann Woll is really doing her best audition for the next Terminator movie here too, giving nothing less than action star as she clambers around the surreal set piece.
However, where Escape Room falters is that it offers up nothing new. It’s simply an amalgamation of other stronger ideas and it never manages to become more than the sum of its parts. Though it’s refreshing to see a horror/thriller with a black female lead, the film falls into other problematic tropes like killing a person of color first. If there are weaknesses in the first two acts, the outrageous sets and fun cast get you through. But the apparent ending is too similar to recent films like The Belko Experiment and Mayhem to feel anything other than lazy.
Though I enjoyed Russell’s turn as Zoey even I wasn’t buying the strangely tacked on ending which attempts to set up some kind of franchise. But shout-out to the writers for so brazenly ripping off Saw that the final line of the film is a muffled voice saying “Let’s Play Again,” so you almost think it’s good old Jigsaw back again to play one final game.
If you’ve ever watched a Saw movie and wished there was no gore and a few more puzzles to solve then you’ll likely enjoy this tropey but fun flick.
Original title Escape Room
IMDb Rating 6.4 5,029 votes
TMDb Rating 6.5 65 votes