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.

Back to School #80: The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story (dir by Jason Lapeyre)


Well, it’s here!  This is my 80th and final Back to School review!  As I’ve mentioned before, I originally thought I’d be able to do all of these reviews in just one week.  Instead, it’s taken me five weeks but you know what?  I’ve had fun doing these reviews and I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading them.  It’s been interesting to see how teen films have progressed and changed over the decades.  We started this series with 1946’s I Accuse My Parents and now, we end it with a film from 2014 that might as well be called I Accuse Screech.

Technically, it’s called The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story but that’s kind of an unwieldy name, isn’t it?  I can’t really see myself typing that title over and over again.  So, for the purposes of this review, this movie is called I Accuse Screech.

First off, some background.  When I was a kid, I used to watch Saved By The Bell: The New Class.  What’s weird is that, when I look back at it, I think even then I knew that the show wasn’t very good.  I knew that the jokes were frequently not funny.  I knew that the story lines were predictable.  I think I was even aware that it was strange how frequently actors were either dropped from or added to the cast.  Don’t get me wrong.  The show was (and still is) oddly watchable but it was never any good and I am pretty sure I knew that.  Then again, maybe that’s just way I want to remember it.  Being a fan of Saved By The Bell: The New Class isn’t exactly something that you brag about.  However, one thing that I can be sure of is that, even when I was young, I knew that Screech Powers sucked.

As played by Dustin Diamond, Screech was the principal’s assistant at Bayside High.  He was also probably the most annoying character ever to be unleashed onto the psyches of impressionable children and tweens.  Screech spoke in a high, squeaky voice and could usually be relied upon to do something incredibly stupid.  Whenever he fucked things up (and he managed to do this several times in each episode), he would say something like, “Zoinks!”  Everybody hated Screech.

Now, I have to admit that I never actually saw an episode of the classic original Saved By The Bell until after the New Class was already off the air.  And that’s when I discovered the adventures of Zack Morris, A.C. Slater, Kelly Kapowski, Jessie Spano, and … Screech.  That’s right, you can’t escape Screech!

And here’s the thing — the original Saved By The Bell is one of those shows that really is kind of terrible and yet you can’t stop watching.  It’s addictively bad, the type of show that you watch with a combination of shock, horror, and amusement.   The original Saved By The Bell is the television equivalent of The Room or Troll 2.  It’s terrible but it’s fun.

So, you would think that a made-for-tv movie about what went on behind-the-scenes of Saved By The Bell would also be terrible yet fun.  That’s certainly the way that it was advertised by Lifetime.  Lifetime appeared to be hoping that their version of the story behind Saved By The Bell would give them a Sharknado of their very own.

And hey, it should have been great.  There’s an interesting story there.  How would a bunch of teens handle suddenly becoming famous?  How would they handle the pressure of being famous while also appearing on a show so bad that it would essentially run the risk of ruining their lives, not to mention their careers?  How would they handle having to grow up both on TV and in real life?

Those are the questions that we expected to have answered by this movie but instead…

Well, let’s just say that I Accuse Screech!

In 2009, Dustin Diamond published a “memoir” called Behind The Bell and oh my God, it is literally the worst fucking book ever written.  Words escape me to describe just how terrible this book is.  Essentially, the book is full of Diamond either complaining that his co-stars didn’t like him or bragging about the fact that he used to have sex with 12 year-olds at Disneyland.  Diamond accuses his castmates of smoking weed.  (Wow, teenagers smoking weed.  MY GOD, THE SCANDAL!)  Diamoned accuses his castmates of having sex.  (OH MY GOD, TEENAGERS HAVING SEX!)  In other words, the book is pretty much Dustin Diamond complaining about the fact that everyone but him was having fun on the set of Saved By The Bell.

So, of course, if you’re going to make a movie about Saved By The Bell, where would you go for your source material?  Well, you can’t go to any of the stars because, with the exception of Dustin Diamond, they all have successful careers outside of Saved By The Bell.  And you can’t go to Dennis Haskins because, seriously, who cares what Mr. Belding thought?

Lifetime decided to use Behind the Bell as their source material.  Unfortunately, Diamond himself has admitted that the book was a pack of lies.  As a result, most of the more salacious (and therefore entertaining) material could not actually be used in the movie.  The Lifetime film is full of hints of bad behavior but no direct evidence.  At one point, we see the actor playing Mario Lopez flirting with an extra in a deserted classroom.  In another scene, the girls get snarky with each other because they all like Mark-Paul Gosselaar.  But, beyond those hints, we don’t get to see any of the book’s more sordid accusations.  Instead, all we get are a lot of scenes of the actor playing Dustin Diamond looking annoyed with his castmates.

(Because, literally, the only verifiable, non-slanderous thing to be found in the book is that apparently Dustin Diamond was whiny, bitter, and jealous…)

As a result, the film seems to be suggesting that Saved By The Bell was put together and performed by the most boring people on Earth.  The end result is not only the worst film to have appeared on Lifetime but perhaps one of the worst films of all time.

Why is it so bad?

I accuse Screech!

(Incidentally, if you want to learn more about Saved By The Bell, I suggest checking out the best Saved By The Bell review site around, The Summer of Morris!)

And, on that note of failure, we conclude this series of 80 Back to School reviews!  Thank you, everyone, for your indulgence and your patience!  I hope everyone enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.