Friday, January 4, 2019

Escape Room - Review

A new year is upon us and with it comes the time-honored tradition: low-quality January horror films. In fact, 2019 serves up a thriller from the same director as last year’s first January horror Insidious: The Last Key in Adam Robitel. Fortunately, Escape Room is not attached to any prior franchise and thus the creative opportunities are wide open.

Six adventurous strangers travel to a mysterious building to experience the escape room -- a game where players compete to solve a series of puzzles to win $10,000. What starts out as seemingly innocent fun soon turns into a living nightmare as the unsuspecting contestants discover each room is an elaborate trap that’s part of a sadistic game of life or death.

While escape rooms in real life may be limited to the occasional word puzzle or small game, the creative possibilities that come with a set of nightmare horror rooms can get truly wild. And the filmmakers really run with that, at least for the first three rooms, and put their characters through the ringer. Surprisingly enough for January horror, the characters are somewhat interesting too, even if they are, as one character puts it, “the meanest people”. 

However, outside of the scene stealing Deborah Ann Woll as Amanda and Jay Ellis as the despicable Jason, the rest of the cast appears to be going through the motions, at least one would hope so. The protagonist is supposed to be Taylor Russell’s Zoey, she’s featured on the poster and is the first character introduced, and yet she largely goes unused outside of being called upon for her intellect. 

The film reeks of missed potential or, at the very least, studio interference. A sequence set in an upside-down bar is easily a standout for its buildup of tension, and director Adam Robitel does some inventive things with the camera in this setting. Unfortunately, the film stumbles from there into a third act that harms the entire film. After the upside-down room, things get a little jumbled, along with three different endings, each worse than the last. Escape Room also commits the terrible sin of sequel setup, and a rather ham-fisted setup at that.

Escape Room is not awful by any means, especially when viewed on the tremendous curve given to January horror films. The visual inventiveness of the individual rooms makes the film an interesting watch, and the buildup of tension is really well crafted at some points. The film is a decent third act away from being a solid horror film, and a potentially exciting and fun start to a franchise, but the ending crumbles, almost as if no one knew how to write themselves out of the very room they created.

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