Any of the twelve of you out there who are crazily desperate for a gore free Saw ripoff can rest easy, because Escape Room exists and your time is now.
Personally, I cant imagine why any fan of a particular genre would be enthused to watch something similar that’s so watered down from the orginal concept and I liken it to someone with a gluten deficiency wanting a pizza so bad they’d order one without the base.
This leads us to Adam Robitel’s aforementioned Escape Room, a twisty, tricky thriller that has some impressively forward thinking ideas about room design and yet chooses to present them in a way that feels like the works of Jigsaw have been re-imagined for the YA crowd – and while diluting your kills in order to hock more cinema seats is hardly a bad thing to do, proceedings feel as empty as… well, an escaped room.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before (but don’t, or we’ll never get started): six strangers with equally tragic pasts are brought together under shady conditions to fight for their very survival against a gauntlet of ingenious death traps. So far so normal but this ordeal is under the pretence of one of those escape room deals where you are looked in a room with a theme and you have to decipher the multiple clues that are hidden about the place in order to get the combination that will allow you to leave. Pretty straight forward, right? Well, as physics nerd Zoey and her various compatriots are about to discover, if they don’t make it out of these rooms in time they’re gonna get something a lot worse than a conciliatory “better luck next time” and a pat on the back. Immolation, drowning and poison gas is what this group of broken survivors can look forward too if they’re slow off the mark and soon they all each start noticing that some of these endless succession of ingeniously designed death traps have been deliberately dressed to remind them all of a past trauma.
So can brainbox Zoey, escape room geek Danny, traumatised ex-soldier Amanda, stock boy Ben, Mike the truck driver and shifty day trading bigshot Jason piece together the rather unfathomable reason that they’ve all been dumped together in this psychotic maze and can they all manage to work in harmony before one of their number (cough* Jason *cough) turns on them in a massively predictable twist?
Yep, it’s yet another case of “who will survive and what will be left of them”; but this time as an added bonus there’s also “how many steals from other movies can you spot before the end credits finally roll?”. Game on.
The real problem isn’t’ becase Escape Room is an awful movie per say – technically it couldn’t be if it tried thanks to the fact that it shamelessly steals from so many better films – it’s just that it’s so derivative of the “trap ’em, then snap ’em” genre of killer puzzle movies, you already feel like you’ve seen it a over hundred times before, like you’ve had to complete a Saw-like test to wade through the entire genre in under two hours. The stock characters are all present and correct and all loaded with enough harrowing back stories to comfortably fill a whole season of X-Factor and each one sporting only a single character trait each that you could reel off by heart. So we have the geek, the loner, the scumbag, the stoner and so on, with each one so thinly sketched it essentially gives the cast full reign to do what they want.
There’s thankfully a couple of seasoned veterans in there (Daredevil’s Deborah Ann Woll and Tyler Labine from Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil make welcome appearances) and everyone else does their job to the letter well enough until the script demands their sacrifice in a bloodless, unsatisfactory demise.
One the other hand, the real stars here are the barely escapable rooms themselves and despite a noticeable drop off after a superlative section set in a upside down sports bar with a collapsing floor (or would that be ceiling?), they give the film a sense of variety the script seems to be missing. They certainly have more character than some of the characters do even though some stretch the realms of credulity with one room resembling a snowy wasteland that wouldn’t look out of place in fucking Narnia.
However, once the film starts to wrap things up and the rooms are whittled down, the film seems to have a final act spaz attack and starts flinging in conspiracy theories and Hostel-style shadowy organizations into the mix as if the writer couldn’t figure out how to finish the script and then got drunk watching The Belko Experiment…. and the film ends with such a desperate and overplayed lunge at a sequel (which it’s got!) that it just leaves you in stunned silence for all the wrong reasons. It’s clumsier than someone trying to walk barefoot and blindfolded through a room with Lego on the floor. While dosed on quayludes…
Or maybe I’m just being harsh here, I mean there’s nothing inherently wrong with Escape Room in general, it’s just so aggressively empty of originality that you can’t help but feel the whole thing is as familiar as the back of your own hand. Of course some pepeople like that, and y’know what, that’s cool – but if you’ve grown increasingly jaded of this over-worked sub-genre then I suggest you should only watch if you haven’t seen Saw. Or it’s sequels. Or Cube. Or it’s sequels. Or the Collector. Or IT’S sequel. Or The Belko Experiment…. I think you can work it out.
Director Robitel has some decent releases in his filmography including the underseen The Taking Of Deborah Morgan and the better of the James Wan-less Insidious sequels (with a fifth installment due later in 2021) but this is one Escape Room that succeeds in creating befuddlment – but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.
Thanks for not playing…