A decade-too-late entry in the deathtrap genre.
Cast your mind back to 2006, where creative, gruesome dismemberment is a sure-fire way to guarantee a handsome box-office taking; Saw 3 raked in nearly $165 million, Final Destination 3 made a whopping $117 million, both off of relatively low budgets. The appetite for torture porn subsided somewhat through the next decade – which is why Escape Room doesn’t really work. It’s neither grisly enough to act as a line of goretastic cocaine or intelligent enough to get by – it’s a softcore, thinly written B-movie that struggles to cook up a hearty portion of suspense.
Adam Robitel (a director very much yet to find his feet following Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Insidious: The Last Key) and writers Bragi Schut and Maria Melnik start off with an interesting conceit, one that’s still enjoying a boom for parties worldwide; escape rooms. We start with a flash forward to a limping teenager thrown into ornate surroundings. It’s clear that he’s in a spot of bother; even more so when walls start closing in à la Star Wars. Before we see his likely pancaked demise, we cut back, where we’re introduced to a Breakfast Club roster of stereotypes: Ben (Logan Miller), a worn-out, stoner millennial; Zoey (Taylor Russell), a mega-smart teen; Jason (Jay Ellis), a whip-smart, cocky banker; Mike (Tyler Labine), a dad-like, charming miner; Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), an PTSD-suffering veteran and Danny (Nik Dodani), an escape rooms enthusiast.
From the simple fact that some characters are afforded way more intro time than others forecasts quite clearly who you’re meant to route for; their stories are super generic to kick off, with only Zoey having something under the surface that keeps your eyes close to her. Soon they all receive puzzle boxes that could summon the Cenobites, and find their way to the mysterious organisation that, you guessed it, puts on elite escape rooms; and whoever wins walks away with $10,000. Quite the pretty sweep, but of course, their life will be on the line for the cash.
From an initial oven to a reversed American pool bar, there’s some impressive effects work on the go, but Edward Thomas’ immersive, flashy production design is deserving of plaudits. The hyper-realised playgrounds are a terrifically engaging landscape to watch the game unfold, mixed with an electronica-infused core from John Carey and Brian Tyler that help reinforce the film’s (probably unintentional) pop culture nostalgia. The likes of Saw and Cube greatly boosted (some could say even caused) the real-world success of escape rooms – but despite Marc Spicer’s frenetic cinematography, the deathtraps vary in both scale and impact. Some overstay their welcome, such as a stretched detour to an icy lake that could be listed under the definition of a foregone conclusion, and a poisonous hospital that sends revelatory, seismic exposition through you like an improbable virus. The best moments are those free from strained attempts at tying the players together in some tragic way, watching their frantic eyes dot around in desperate search of the answer. In a few fleeting moments, you’re there with it, but Robitel can’t stick the pace.
No-one in the cast is particularly bad, per say; Labine and Russell soar with two genuinely human performances, the former popping with a youthful, endearing energy and the latter effortlessly cruising with the well-practiced charisma of a happy-go-lucky parent. Fortunately, the film is relatively snappily paced, so the cornball, trophy script doesn’t get the chance to completely thwart the moderate excitement along the way. A dangerously derivative ending stampedes on through could have been a harmless climax, part philosophical, part Belko Experiment. But all things considered, as a piece of fluff for teenagers on Friday night dates, Escape Room probably fits the bill.
Awesome production design illuminates this fun flick, repressed by a lack of real wickedness.
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm