Horror Film Review: Escape Room (dir by Adam Robitel)


Does everyone here remember Escape Room?

Though it may be hard to believe now, Escape Room was actually the first surprise hit of 2019.  When the film was first released on January 4th, nobody expected much from it.  January, of course, is when the year’s worst movies are usually released.  The studios figure that they can get rid of their disasters while everyone’s busy trying to predict the Oscar nominees and usually, the studios are correct.  The ad campaign for Escape Room made it look like just another slasher movie, the mainstream reviewers were, as they tend to be with January horror movies, unimpressed and I don’t think anyone expected the film to make a dent in the box office.

And yet, in the end, Escape Room did pretty well for itself at the box office.  Not only did it open stronger than expected but it remained fairly strong (at least by the standards set by previous January horror films) during its second week of release.  The film managed to hold its own opposite Aquaman, which had pretty much drowned every other competitor.  A sequel was quickly greenlit.

What drew people to Escape Room?  I think it was the title.  For a while, people were genuinely obsessed with the idea of escape rooms.  For those who have a life outside of the internet, an escape room is a game in which a group of people are locked in a room and have to figure out how to get the door unlocked.  This usually involves searching the room, gathering clues, and figuring out a password or something similar.  Personally, I’ve never done the whole escape room thing and, being that I’m rather claustrophobic, I doubt that I ever will.  Add to that, I absolutely suck at solving puzzles so I imagine that I would be trapped in that room for a long time!  However, there are other people who absolutely love escape rooms and I imagine that every single one of them went to see this movie.

Escape Room is about a group of people who all receive a mysterious imitation, inviting them to an escape room and promising $10,000 to whomever wins.  Among those involved, there’s Zoey (Taylor Russell), who is a college student.  She’s studying physics so we automatically know that she’s going to be our hero.  Ben (Logan Miller) is a stockboy and is just bland enough to be a potential romantic interest for Zoey.  Mike (Tyler Labine) drives a truck.  Jason (Jay Ellis) is rich and, therefore, evil.  Danny (Nik Dodani) is the geeky escape room expert.  And Amanda (special guest Deborah Ann Woll) is the Iraq war veteran.  They’re a group of smart people but it apparently didn’t occur to anyone to just stay home for the weekend.  I mean, $10,000 is not that much.

Anyway, it turns out that the escape room isn’t just one room.  Instead, it’s several rooms and each room requires the group to solve a different puzzle.  Each room is also designed to potentially kill.  One heats up like an oven.  Another features a frozen pond, specifically designed to allow a player to fall through the ice.  Another room looks like an operating room from Hell.  My favorite room was the upside down pool hall with the floor/ceiling that started to break up as soon as the group entered.  That was fun.

Of course, it turns out that everyone playing the game has a secret in their past and each room has been designed to force them to confront those secrets.  Eventually, it’s revealed who is behind all of this and it’s not a shock at all.  In fact, Escape Room‘s final scenes are probably the film’s worst because the movie doesn’t really have a conclusion.  Instead, the filmmakers might as have just slapped a big “To Be Continued” across the screen.

Oh well!  Flaws and predictability aside, Escape Room is actually kind of fun.  The characters are all pretty much disposable but the actors all do their best with the material that they’ve been given.  Of course, the film’s main attraction is the chance to see all the various rooms and discovering how they’ve been booby trapped.  Fortunately, each room is fascinating in its own individual way and the puzzles are genuinely challenging.  (I would have totally died if I was in this movie.)

Escape Room is a decent enough way to spend 100 minutes.