Six diverse people are invited to try out a new escape room. Anyone that successfully solves the puzzles and gets out of the rooms will win $10,000. Those invited are Zoey (Taylor Russell), a brilliant but introverted college student, Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), a former soldier, Mike (Tyler Labine), a truck driver, Ben (Logan Miller) a grocery store clerk, Danny (Nik Dodani), a gamer and escape room groupie, and Jason (Jay Ellis), a high-powered investment broker. These six people are faced with rooms that are trying to kill them and they must work together despite their differences. As they struggle, they discover they are connected by tragedy.
“Escape Room” follows the formula of many low-budget horror films: Collect a mostly no-name cast, tell a decent story, establish a hero (or heroes) and set up a sequel. It has worked for the Blumhouse factory for their horror franchises “Insidious” and “The Purge.” “Escape Room” does a pretty good job of introducing us to a largely unknown cast, plopping them in the middle of a deadly set of puzzle rooms they must escape from before the boobytraps are sprung that will kill them, establishing a hero from the diverse group and creating a mystery as to why they were chosen. It is a simple but entertaining film.
It’s simple because the whole concept of “Escape Room” is to whittle the six characters down to one or two. How that is done is the complicated part and the part that stretches credibility to the absolute max. The puzzles are nearly impossible to figure out. An average person in one of the rooms wouldn’t have a chance of escape. Finding a key that’s part of a prop or a mini safe hidden in an upside-down room or figuring out the code word for a padlock based on one individual’s past feels like it is asking a lot for an audience to believe. Some of the puzzles requires one particular person to survive from one room to the next. What if that person doesn’t make it out of the previous room? Is the next room changed to give the others a chance or is everyone else screwed? That question is left up in the air, but it troubled me as the film went on.
There is also the question of who is behind all the traps and puzzles in the escape room. As it turns out, the film falls back on the all-knowing, all-seeing, nameless, faceless corporation. I won’t give any more away, but it’s the kind of thing we’ve seen in films like “Hostel.” A powerful group that uses average people for their amusement. I suppose given the political climate this might resonate with audiences, but it’s been done many times before and it struck me as a little old.
“Escape Room” works because of the ensemble cast. No one is a standout, but no one is a weak link either. Taylor Russell is the introverted but brilliant Zoey. This caterpillar must be reborn as a butterfly in order for the film to succeed. Zoey actually is transformed into a lion as she goes full action hero. I don’t want to spoil too much of the film, but Zoey is a large reason why the film has a marginally happy ending. Russell makes the turn from delicate flower to raging bull believable because of the logic she applies. Again, I don’t want to spoil it, but Zoey is the true hero of “Escape Room.”
The rest of the cast plays their parts well with Logan Miller as the brooding Ben and Jay Ellis as the rich and quietly dangerous Jason as the more interesting characters. We are given plenty of reason to dislike both of them, yet we root for them all the same. Jason is pragmatic while Ben is emotional. They are like fire and water, but still they compliment each other and bring their own unique strengths to the solving of the puzzles. If this pair manages to escape, they would make a formidable pairing to go after those responsible for trying to kill them. I’m not saying they do, but I am saying it might make for a cool sequel.
“Escape Room” is rated PG-13 for terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material and language. Each room is designed to kill the players. There is fire, freezing cold, falling, poison gas, being crushed and your fellow player. One room has a substance that causes hallucinations, leading the players to fight each other. I don’t recall what the suggestive material was, so it couldn’t have been too suggestive. Foul language is scattered.
“Escape Room” wants to be a franchise or at least a trilogy. I’m not sure how they can squeeze three movies or more out of this concept. The end of the film sets up a sequel that makes sense; however, anything after that will be stretching this idea very, very thin. That would likely lead to diminishing box office and, eventually, a reboot. That’s the way these things seem to go; but that’s looking way down the road. For right now, “Escape Room” is a pretty good thriller that makes for a nice distraction in what is a dreary winter.
“Escape Room” gets four stars out of five.
This week, I’ll be reviewing “The Upside” for WIMZ.com.
Also opening this week:
A Dog’s Way Home—
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