A new year means new movies, but the month of January is a notoriously slow time at the theater. Infamously known as the dumping ground of Hollywood, January and February are the two months of the year where movie studios take out the trash, releasing films that they have little faith in during a time of little competition for the chance to make at least some money off of them. First up for the year is Adam Robitel’s (Insidious: The Last Key) next horror project, Escape Room. It’s a movie that’s obviously cashing in on the current popularity of escape rooms, but the good news is that it’s surprisingly decent, even a good bit of fun. At least it is until the final 15 minutes, which derails the entire thing.
Escape Room‘s plot is straight to the point: Six strangers receive mysterious invitations to participate in one of the world’s toughest escape rooms, and there’s a considerable cash prize for whoever wins. Unbeknownst to them, this is far more than just a game, and everyone’s lives are actually on the line. These strangers will have to work together and use their wits and individual skills if they’re going to survive the sadistic game, and hopefully find out who’s behind it all. Yeah, it’s basically a PG-13 Saw, but thanks to that rating, the torture porn is replaced with actual, tense thrills. There’s little to no violence or gore, and nothing really jumps out at you to scare you, so I’d consider Escape Room to be more of a thriller than a straight horror movie.
The characters are adequate, the performances are fine, and besides some annoying editing in some scenes, the direction of Robitel is solid. The rooms and puzzles make for some fun set pieces, including a room that turns into an oven intended to bake the players alive, a frozen pond that’s getting colder by the minute, and an upside down pool hall who’s floor is steadily falling away. It’s exciting to try and solve the riddles and find a way out along with the characters, and the danger that they’re in is handled well and makes for some genuinely seat-gripping moments. The film has its weaker elements, like some clunky dialogue and exposition, but for the most part, it’s thoroughly enjoyable.
The participants of the murder trap include Zoey (Taylor Russell), a quiet but bright young woman, Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), a scarred Iraq veteran, Mike (Tyler Labine), a happy-go-lucky father, Ben (Logan Miller), a standoffish alcoholic, Danny (Nik Dodani), a game enthusiast who’s done dozens of escape rooms, and Jason (Jay Ellis), a well-off businessman who’s a total asshole. Each are likeable with the exception of Jason, who is an irredeemable dick for no real reason, and the fast friendship that forms between them feels earned – arguing is kept to a minimum, and the characters know that the best way to survive is to help each other. In an odd move, we’re only introduced to Zoey, Ben, and Jason at the start, and don’t meet the other three until the game has begun. This leads to some rushed backstories for everyone, but thankfully, the cast is strong enough to hold the simple premise of the film up.
This all makes Escape Room a decent amount of fun, surprisingly. The rooms and puzzles are creative and entertaining, and the thrills are actually, well, thrilling. I highly suggest that you leave and consider the movie finished before it’s finale though – as it stands, it’s one of the worst I’ve seen in a long time. The final 15 minutes of Escape Room attempts to pull back the curtain of the mystery of who’s been behind it all and why, but in doing so, it only truly reveals that the makers of this film had absolutely no idea how to end it.
Its answers are vague and unsatisfying, and then just get tossed out the window anyway in a manic attempt to add further mystery and set up a sequel. It’s downright embarrassing, with a literal shadowy figure tossed in at the end that makes the whole thing almost unintentionally hilarious. It’s a shocking thing to witness a movie like this do just fine for so long, only to completely collapse right at the finish line. It was doing so well, too.
2.5 / 5 Stars
Escape Room is now playing in theaters everywhere.