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Review: Escape Room (2019)

Escape Room (2019)

Directed by: Adam Robitel

Premise: A group of strangers are invited to participate in an escape room in which they are locked inside an enclosed space and must find clues to escape. The game takes a deadly turn when the scenarios turn out to be real. 

What Works: Escape Room is a mix of several different genres. This is primarily a horror film in the tradition of the body horror pictures that were popular in the 2000s but it is also a thriller and (at least implicitly) a science fiction film. The movie borrows elements from those different genres and assembles them together in a way that is inventive and mostly fresh. Escape Room brings together a group of strangers from different walks of life and the filmmakers and the actors do an effective job of establishing the characters and making each of them unique. The story periodically cuts to flashbacks that fill out each player’s backstory and does so economically; we get just enough backstory to understand who each gamer is and that gives some depth to their later decisions as the characters work together in order to survive. Escape Room is led by Taylor Russell as a young woman with an aptitude for math but impaired social skills. Because of her introverted nature, the film does not suggest Russell’s character as a hero and it is admirable how the actress and the filmmakers keep her character consistent. However, while respecting who she is, the filmmakers find ways to highlight Russell’s experience and stage scenes so that the action plays out from her perspective. Escape Room is more than a little ridiculous but the filmmakers embrace the absurdity and come up with some creative scenarios in which the tension plays out effectively. Each room in this game leads to another and the characters are faced with a variety of scenarios, each with unique and imaginative challenges. Escape Room also has a sense of humor about itself which makes the ridiculousness more passable the dialogue possesses wit that makes the characters likable.

What Doesn’t: Escape Room shows a number of influences, such as the 1997’s Cube and The Game, but the most obvious point of reference is Saw and its sequels. However, Escape Room falls short of the Saw pictures in a few respects. The traps of the Saw films mostly maintained a believable scale and an intricacy in their design that gave those films credibility. By comparison, the scenarios of Escape Room are so big and so over engineered that they become absurd. The Saw films also had more substance to them. In the better installments of that series, the stories built up to a reversal and characters and viewers were led to an epiphany. Escape Room never makes that kind of impact. It’s not leading up to anything and the film ends abruptly. The last of the players discover the truth behind the traps but the finale feels less like a conclusion and more like the set up for a sequel—which is in fact coming next year.  

DVD extras: Featurettes and deleted scenes.

Bottom Line: Escape Room is an unusual and entertaining film. It is ridiculous but that’s part of the fun of the movie. Escape Room presents a series of creative set pieces and holds them together with characters who are better defined than we might normally expect from a film like this.

Episode: #752 (June 9, 2019)