Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, 2021.
Directed by Adam Robitel.
Starring Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Holland Roden, Indya Moore, Thomas Cocquerel and Carlito Olivero.
The first film’s two survivors head out in search of the evil company behind the dangerous game that killed their friends, only to find themselves ensnared within yet more deadly traps.
The 2019 horror movie Escape Room was a surprise treat. The concept of a deadly escape room is an obvious one, but director Adam Robitel’s film brought innovation and spectacle to the idea, as well as a genuinely likeable bunch of characters rather than forgettable cannon fodder. A sequel was immediately greenlit, with a sense of inevitability given the clear franchise potential and the obvious steer provided by the first film’s ending. But where its predecessor was sure-footed and more than the sum of its parts, the preposterously named Escape Room: Tournament of Champions – yes, a character does say that title out loud – stumbles and bumbles.
Even the opening scene suggests trouble in store, delivering a breakneck recap of the first movie which is so poorly put together that it actually manages to make the plot more confusing. Soon, though, it finds its groove as survivors Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) travel to New York City in search of the malevolent company Minos. Within minutes, they’ve been locked in a runaway subway carriage with a handful of others who, it transpires, have also emerged with their lives from the organisation’s life-and-death game. Minos isn’t finished with them yet.
While the first film, naturally, had to walk its audience through the idea of an escape room via characters who were learning at the same time, this sequel goes the opposite way. Every single one of our half-dozen cast members is an escape room expert, solving absurdly intricate puzzles before the audience has even worked out what they’re supposed to be solving. While the first movie focused on characters reacting to the horrors around them, this one is mostly just those same characters yelling leaden exposition at each other over clanking machinery. In this world, someone can say “I bet that fridge is the way out”, based on zero evidence, and nobody will question it.
The games themselves are rather more overwrought this time, lacking the specific, character-based elements that helped the first movie’s rooms to go further. They had the same dark irony as many Saw traps, whereas Tournament of Champions delivers games that exist just because they look cool. There’s no reason that one of the rooms is “an art deco bank of death”, other than the fact someone wrote that idea on a flipboard and thought it sounded exciting. The games this time around are far too elaborate, delivering puzzles nobody could feasibly work out – let alone under the pressure of imminent death. There’s very little space for the audience to play along.
Robitel still has a great eye for a wild, cacophonous set piece, even if much of the character depth has been lifted out. The first movie’s intriguing connective tissue between characters has been thoroughly scrapped, leaving a disparate group of nobodies. Taylor Russell does her level best with the lead role, but Zoey’s prominence means only that she gets the most exposition to yell. Her relationship with Logan Miller’s Ben is given very little room to grow, which proves fatal for the movie when it becomes a pivotal element of the final act.
Much like its clear predecessor Saw – they could be in the same universe – the Escape Room franchise is poorly served by stepping away from its core premise. The darkly ironic but clearly escapable rooms have now been replaced by intricate death traps in which the chance of winning the game is so remote that the intrigue evaporates almost instantly. Despite the elegant work of Brian Tyler and John Carey’s propulsive, synthy score, tension is in short supply.
But despite this, the film is always a thoroughly watchable experience. It’s aware of its status as a sort of halfway house between Saw and Final Destination, but seldom finds itself able to reach the occasional brilliance of either of those franchises. The final scene lays the table for a threequel, of course, but everything about this slightly disappointing second instalment suggests it might be better for Robitel and his team to lock the doors of the room and quit while they’re just about ahead.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.