Escape Room (2019)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
A far superior first horror film of the year, the best of a rough slate of annual films which kick off the new release schedule.
Though the final act is a major letdown, Escape Room has some clever scenes, surprises, and puzzles, which will make interested viewers engage from the opening moments.
Honestly, I had way more fun with this than I expected. Chances are, you will too.
That last act is…well…not great. How much you enjoy the opening two-thirds of the film will determine how much you tolerate in the final scenes.
There really isn’t much of a story here. In fact, most of the exposition is crowbarred into one scene, late in the film, which feels far too late and almost unnecessary (because we have mostly figured it what is revealed already.)
If you really want to try, this can be picked apart really easily. However, it asks very little of its audience except to play along and check your ego at the door. I appreciate that.
For the 12th consecutive year, a horror movie opens on the first weekend of the calendar year. What began in 2008 with One Missed Call, has carried forward with such “classics” as: The Unborn, Daybreakers, Season of the Witch, The Devil Inside, Texas Chainsaw 3-D, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, The Forest, Underworld: Blood Wars, and Insidious: The Last Key.
Suffice to say, that list is far from impressive, with some of those films landing high on the list of the worst films from their respective years. Like seriously, have you watched The Devil Inside? The found footage exorcism flick which ended with a teaser to visit a website?!?!
The bar, subsequently, is set very, very low for 2019’s January newborn, Escape Room, which arrives with PG-13 calibrated similarities to the 1998 cult classic, Cube, and finds a fresh-faced ensemble of actors working with director Adam Robitel, who lands his second consecutive first-horror-movie-of-the-year opening, following 2018’s Insidious: The Last Key.
As terrible a movie as that happened to be, Robitel directs his tail off with Escape Room, and delivers two-thirds of a pretty clever, intriguing curio to play around with. Until the movie runs out of places to go, I found myself having fun with the idea of puzzle-locked escape rooms being arranged for nefarious means.
There isn’t much of a story here, truth be told, with a large chunk of the exposition relegated to a scene late in the movie. Basically, six random people in Chicago receive a personalized card, with a message, and a small box. After unlocking the box, a card pops up and instructs them to arrive at a downtown high-rise to take part in the most sophisticated escape room adventure imaginable.
We have the anxious, genius-level college student Zoey (Taylor Russell), former soldier Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), down-on-his-luck Ben (Logan Miller), escape room enthusiast Danny (Nik Dodani), former coal miner Mike (Tyler Labine), and investment broker Jason (Jay Ellis).
The characters seem to have been conceived from a 5-minute brainstorm, though screenwriters Bragi Schut and Maria Melnik waste no time in getting everyone together and putting them in their first room, mere moments after they arrive to their destination.
Within 10 minutes of the movie’s opening moments, the ragtag crew of unsuspecting gamers find themselves locked in a room, soon resembling an oven, where every mistake turns the heat up hotter and hotter.
And then we are off.
We find ourselves in rooms which resemble an upside-down bar, a sub-freezing, iced-over courtyard, a remote cabin and other peculiar locations. Very quickly, it becomes obvious that whoever has designed these escape rooms not only has bountiful resources to build these incredible set pieces, but also is banking on the fact that not all the competitors will survive their experience.
Robitel’s inefficiencies as a director are hidden here by the fact that the rooms are so intricately designed; we cannot help but caught up in trying to figure out the puzzles along with the characters. Schut and Melnik never linger in confusion too long, typically it’s one main character who solves nearly every puzzle when the group gets stuck, but there is an inventiveness to this whole endeavor that makes Escape Room fun to watch.
Absolutely this movie is silly at times, improbable and illogical in others. One character’s sudden ability to handle a firearm and become pistol-savvy rings laughably absurd. But in all honesty, the biggest design flaw in Escape Room is that the movie gets to a big reveal and has nowhere left to go.
Well, to be fair, we get a prolonged teaser for a sequel that has such an elaborate set-up that it feels like we have already started a second Escape Room movie by the time this first story wraps up.
Shot for a mere $9 million, Robitel delivers certainly the best, first, wide-release horror film since this January tradition began in 2008. With that said, Escape Room is not a great film, but for just long enough, it offers some intriguing puzzles and clever plotting which makes it more fun than it really has any right to be.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Nik Dodani, Jay Ellis, Yorick van Wageningen.
Director: Adam Robitel
Written by: Bragi Schut, Maria Melnik (screenplay); Bragi Schut (story)
Release Date: January 4, 2019