Escape Room. 2019.
Directed by Adam Robitel.
Starring Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, Nik Dodani, Jessica Sutton, Adam Robitel, and Yorick van Wageningen.
Six strangers find themselves in circumstances beyond their control, and must use their wits to survive.
Adam Robitel’s Escape Room pieces together bits from every horror franchise under the blood moon. Saw comparisons are natural, although PG-13 censorship avoids any grotesque obstacle gore. Contestants fight for a prize, which is something out of The Condemned or Death Race or The Belko Experiment. Motivations enter a realm of “cheating” death akin to Final Destination while society’s moral decay is torn from Hostel’s pay-to-play model. Hell, Vincenzo Natali himself would be proud of each sector’s dangerous morphing a la Cube. Robitel – alongside writers Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik – mines various sequel-savvy horror influences, but never unsatisfyingly. Escape Room builds a better human trap despite Act III franchise preoccupations.
Invitations arrive on doorsteps in the form of blackened puzzle boxes – a Minos Escape Room company card sealed inside. Although, this isn’t just *any* attraction jailbreak. Cash rewards await anyone who can defeat Minos’ latest experience, touted as next-level immersive amusement. Escapee wunderkind Danny (Nik Dodani) assures everyone safety precautions won’t allow for harmful outcomes, but then industrial heat coils start roasting competitors and we get our first taste of creative torments to come: an oversized oven posing as thematic villain Dr. Wootan Yu’s inaugural trial.
Robitel’s production department goes to painstaking lengths when constructing Rube Goldberg chambers where a single doorknob turn triggers frantic domino effects. Breakaway floorboards reveal a deadly drop below Room #3’s topsy-turvy podunk billiards hall. Frozen lake surfaces crumble under scampering feet as survivors slip towards exit lights. Each venue teleports audiences into a unique world of planted clues – fishing poles, x-ray machines, sliding vinyl album covers – detailed from digitized great outdoors landscapes to antique pitstop hideaways. Imagination runs wild, especially once the rooms reveal their ticking time bombs (two combatants in a rotating black-and-white checkered living room trip on acid to maximum distortion). M.C. Escher meets Hunter S. Thompson meets Jigsaw (watered down).
As physical challenges increase – dangling over bottomless drops, electroshock machines, arctic temperatures – Escape Room sustains a morbid giddiness that draws from our most primal instincts. Audiences gravitate towards gladiatorial bouts with odds favoring execution, andRobitel dares you to question your own enjoyment. Ex-militant Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll) channels all her upper body strength to shimmy across the pool bar ceiling – which is the upsidedown room’s floor – while drunk loser Ben (Logan Miller) and business shark Jason (Jay Ellis) elsewhere duke it out on a twirling disc. Schut and Melnik wring substantial tension out of PG-13 appropriate stunts, edited and framed to maximize each domain’s sinister plot twist. All the while reminding viewers they’re excitedly watching innocent lives snuff out as to address why we so enamored by escapist depravity (which we are).
Characterization promotes dissension among participants. Danny geeks out over the 90-something rooms he’s conquered upon introductions, met by Jason’s confirmation that he’d rather preoccupy himself by “having sex with human women.” Anxious brainiac Zoey (Taylor Russell) gets called “Rainman” by, once again, Jason. Then you’ve got Mike (Tyler Labine), a constant source of homebred Southern manners and endless dad jokes that create a genuine, likable “average Joe” in an otherwise dystopian Running Man world. While Jason’s fight-or-flight instincts represent jagged outline chiseling, most other characters – including “asshole” Ben – work within the film’s overall theme of second chances being put to the test. Six chosen who defied the odds, imprisoned and artificially endangered to see who’s a *true* survivor.
Better than your average dice-em’-up Saw sequel where corpse chunks override an actual message once janitors mop all the blood from slaughterhouse cement.
Alas, Escape Room refuses to quit while it’s ahead. After Wootan Yu’s final rooms caves in on itself, after hazmat underlings reveal themselves, multiple scenes push the most laborious, generic franchise continuation hopes. Minos’ impervious corporate structure has already been demonstrated – we don’t need three more examples crammed into a whirlwind finale like stale sardines. Same goes for surviving players – lives turned miraculously around – who exhibit a National Treasure like desire to expose Minos’ scheme.
We get it! More victims, rigged traps, and interactive event horrors await future installments. Dragging along the inevitable sours Robitel’s tight navigation up until said sequel promises.
Escape Room’s a strong horror themed brainteaser motivated by lesser moral conundrums – which, for a movie like Escape Room, isn’t a damning proclamation. Money motivates in mysterious ways, and we’re ultimately here to watch six contestants fail Minos’ unbeatable game. We’re all human, and it’s just a movie. In that sense, PG-13 action thrills never have us missing Rothian splatters given how raised antes build on cue. It’s not the most dangerous game, but it’s certainly dangerous enough. Don’t buy into January’s cinematic release stigmata. Adam Robitel and company devise a sinisterly competitive start to 2019’s horror slate that is first, foremost, and always about mind-warping fun.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).