Escape Room is directed by Adam Robitel and stars Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, and Nik Dodani.
Escape Room is something of an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. Over the course of the film's 100 minutes, you can get a good idea of what kind of picture the movie is trying to create. The only trouble is: it's a picture that is still missing several parts by the time the end credits start to roll. The poster, consisting of Taylor Russell's jigsaw face with some pieces missing, is about as appropriate (albeit unintentional) of a visual as you can get. I didn't catch the film when it first hit theaters back at the very start of 2019, and now that I've seen it several months later, it doesn't appear that I missed all that much. Here we have the fourth directorial feature of Adam Robitel, the same director behind Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Insidious: The Last Key, so you were excused from going into Escape Room with anything resembling expectations. While Escape Room is easily the best of Robitel's three latest directorial outings, it doesn't mean the film is any sort of work of art.
The film takes place in Chicago and tells the story of a group of people who are each invited to the Minos Escape Room Facility for a chance to win $10,000. The people invited are genius college student Zoey (Taylor Russell), grocery store worker Ben (Logan Miller), Iraq veteran Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), daytrader Jason (Jay Ellis), truck driver Mike (Tyler Labine), and escape room veteran Danny (Nik Dodani). The group gathers in the facility's waiting room, but quickly discovers they are trapped inside. This is no ordinary escape room: this escape room means death, unless the players are able to find all the clues and advance.
Not a very deep film by any means. Escape Room doesn't care one iota for giving its mashup of cliched characters some semblance of charm, except maybe for Amanda, whose backstory on fighting in Iraq and being traumatized by her war experiences is at least something to grab on to. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik is concocted with the mindset of showing us what sort of personalities would be fun to watch in an escape room setting, and not first showing us a person, and then developing the person in a way such that putting the character in an escape room makes sense. Take Zoey for example: the screenplay wastes no time in telling us that Zoey is super smart. All well and good, except the screenplay never bothers to do anything else with Zoey's supreme intelligence, other than let her be the genius that figures everything out, thereby diminishing the relevance of the other characters, as well as destroying anything resembling suspense. If Schut and Melnik had told us that Zoey was a genius, and then do something in addition to that such as flesh out the idea that Zoey is uncomfortable with being put on the spot and/or that she struggles under pressure, then the movie would have something interesting to work with. But no: to Robitel, Scut, and Melnik, it's all about what happens inside each escape room, and they couldn't care less how flimsy the characters they put into the escape rooms are.
- When it comes to the actual escape rooms, they are all pretty fun and show at least a few ounces of creativity. From opening doors to finding keys to avoiding untimely death, Escape Room always manages to keep each new room totally fresh, offering up various puzzles so that no two rooms play out exactly the same. Some of the escape rooms are also pretty impressive when it comes to visual and production design, my personal favorite being a black and white room in which two characters go into a psychedelic daze. Boring is definitely something the movie is not, and that's largely because the movie also strives to be kind of an interactive experience, in that you want to solve the puzzles yourself, and you can feel all smug by figuring out the puzzles before the characters in the movie do. I wouldn't say the puzzles are the most challenging ones you'll ever find, and the movie never makes it clear if it's ramping up the difficulty as the players move from one room to the next. All in all, there's fun to be had, and that's what mattered most to Sony and the filmmakers involved.
- So I already mentioned the wasted opportunities that Escape Room had when it came to its characters, but that's nowhere near as bad as the film's final twenty-ish minutes, where things really go downhill. The worst crime of all is how lackluster of a job the movie does in communicating its main ideas, which come almost smack-dab out of nowhere and not like anything the movie was building up to. The plot goes from escape room to escape room, but hardly without any subtle hints towards who's the main villain and what this whole predicament was about. When we finally learn what the perilous escape rooms were all about, the message comes in the form of a rushed monologue that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and instead of giving you time to process what you just learned, the movie bolts it way towards its ending, which is as on the nose about setting up a sequel as is Alita: Battle Angel's ending. Is this a new thing that started in late 2018 and early 2019: movies ending by screaming, "We are planning for a sequel!" straight to your face? I saw it in the 2018 Robin Hood, Alita: Battle Angel, and now in Escape Room. What other 2019 films are going to do this?
Sure enough, Escape Room has a sequel scheduled for release in August of 2020, and chances are pretty good I won't be there to see it. The movie is kind of fun with all its different, interesting escape rooms, but the screenplay by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik leaves so much more to be desired, mostly in its half-baked characters and in its lack of execution when it comes to main ideas. I'm a huge lover of puzzles, and I've done several escape rooms in my own life that I can speak for how fun they can be, so I was pretty intrigued when I first heard about a movie in which it takes escape rooms and adds the extra layer that, if you fail to escape, you die. Unfortunately, the movie settles for the safe PG-13 route, with little to no blood and gore. At least this movie could be something of a fun spin on the Saw franchise, but no, Sony loves their PG-13 rating for movies that clearly should be rated R (*cough cough* Venom *cough cough*). But anyway, Escape Room is still completely watchable, which is enough to keep me from knocking it down too hard. It may not be a very complex puzzle, but it's still a puzzle you can enjoy doing and not feel like you're wasting your time.
Recommend? Only as a good time-waster on a free weeknight or slow weekend.
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