Escape Rooms are a growing entertainment experience where people lock themselves in a room and try to figure out a series of convoluted riddles and puzzles. It’s a perfect setting for a horror film, especially one that revolves around elaborate death traps. If you throw logic to the window Escape Room is a remarkably entertaining thriller. Only when examined does its collection of plot holes and predictable characters begin to reveal themselves.
Directed by Adam Robitel, Escape Room revolves around six strangers accepting a mysterious invitation to compete in an elaborate game where the winner gets ten thousand dollars. Soon after arriving it becomes apparent that if the players don’t finish the escape rooms in time they will die. With every contestant harboring a dark past, it’s up to them to survive and unmask whoever is behind these twisted, bone-crushing games.
Think of it like Saw, but if Jigsaw had a way bigger budget.
Despite how silly Escape Room can get, it’s a remarkably fun ride. Each of the different escape rooms are so outlandishly complex that you can’t help but marvel at each scenerio Robitel throws at us. There’s some real creativity on display, especially once you start learning about the different character’s backstories and how the rooms tie into them. Yet, where Escape Room stumbles is the actual kills are pretty toothless and void of tension.
A lot of this is due to the PG-13 rating which really hinders Robitel from delivering any shocking payoffs for his insanely over the top creations. You can tell he is trying to push the rating in some areas, but the rather mundane way some of the contestants die undermines the spectacular puzzles they have to solve. Escape Room is also void of any tension the longer it goes on, with the last two rooms feeling rushed and quickly brushed aside. Robitel also makes a weird choice to show one of the contestants at the start of the film competing in a room – which removes any fear he might die until we hit that scene.
Most of this can be overlooked due to the solid directing and cinematography. Where Escape Room really falters is its ending, which is boring and laughably predictable. We won’t spoil it here, but if you’ve watched any film like Escape Room then the big reveal as to who and why this is happening won’t shock you. For a film trying so desperately to throw crazy and absurd scenarios at the audience, it’s depressingly formulaic finish ends the film on a dull note.
Thankfully, where the story stumbles, the cast’s performances pick up the slack. The group has fantastic chemistry and watching them try to solve each puzzle is worth the price of admission. Taylor Russell’s anti-social Zoey and Tyler Labine’s truck driver Mike deserve a special shoutout. Russell does a wonderful job of making Zoey’s trauma feel real without making her quirks and behavior feel exploitative for cheap emotional points. Even if her arc is predictable, Russell adds a softness that makes her a great lead.
Labine also delivers a surprisingly passionate and compelling performance. Unlike the others, Mike is the old man trying to fit in with “the youth.” It’s a thankless part that’s typically only played for laughs and a quick death. It’s Labrine’s earnest and heartfelt approach to Mike that really sells one of the few emotional punches Escape Room manages to land. You really feel for him and about halfway in he was the person I was rooting for to survive.
On the other end of the spectrum, Jay Ellis’ ruthless businessman Jason is undercut by poor direction. While Ellis embodies the role of a cold corporate suit, Robitel does very little to humanize him. In almost every scene Jason is staring menacingly at someone or talking about survival of the fittest. I get that a film like Escape Room needs a villain but it already has one – the unknown people torturing everyone else. Instead of subverting our expectations of the tired trope of a mean businessman, Escape Room offers one of the most cliche examples.
That being said, Escape Room is still an okay film. If you are looking for a deep or nuanced thriller this isn’t going to be it. However, for those wanting a film they can turn their brains off while watching and just enjoy the ride, this is worth the price of admission. Even with its lame ending, bloodless finishes, and odd character choices, Escape Room is a well made little thriller that prioritizes creativity over complexity. Escape Room isn’t going to be genre defining but it’s better than I expected going in.