Escape Room — Review by Daniel Rester
Another first week of January, another studio horror release. For 2019 we get Escape Room. The title is as suggested, playing on those fun and tricky rooms available in most malls these days, except with, you know, more complications and death involved.
The plot setup is simple: six strangers are invited to a new escape room that promises to be state of the art and provide the winner with $10,000. There’s shy college girl Zoey (Taylor Russell), rich prick Jason (Jay Ellis), alcoholic grocery boy Ben (Logan Miller), truck driver Mike (Tyler Labine), military veteran Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), and geeky escape room-lover Danny (Nik Dodani). As the group members begin to solve the puzzles, they realize that the clues have elements related to their pasts and that the game is actually deadly.
Escape Room takes cues from such films as Cube (1997), Saw V (2008), The Cabin in the Woods (2012), and The Belko Experiment (2017) in its plotting and execution. Despite this, it doesn’t feel too rote or gimmicky for about its first hour. The writers and director Adam Robitel (who helmed The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) and Insidious: The Last Key (2018)) keep things moving quickly and make each new setting feel inventive and involving in ways.
One can tell the production designers had a blast crafting the sets as well, with many props coming into play as the characters solve the mysteries. Without spoiling too much, there are multiple escape rooms involved, each with a refreshingly different creative angle. One setting involving upside-down materials in a pool hall is especially impressive and provides the most thrilling scene in the film (while also cleverly using Petula Clark’s song “Downtown”).
The acting and characters here are serviceable. Only Logan Miller’s performance and his character Ben (damaged but intelligent) emerge as truly interesting, though it’s nice to see the talented Deborah Ann Woll in something other than the excellent Daredevil TV show. Taylor Russell is decent too but isn’t given much room to make Zoey complex, which is slightly annoying given that she’s our lead protagonist.
For a PG-13 January horror release, Escape Room is much better than I expected it to be given the genre’s past outings released in the month; it’s certainly not a laughable train wreck like The Bye Bye Man (2017). That being said, Robitel’s film still ends up disappointing in the end. Where the first half of Escape Room is surprising and entertaining, the second half begins to drop the ball more and more from scene to scene (beginning with a scene involving an EKG). Things simply get too ridiculous before leading to a horrendous ending that sets up a sequel in an insanely contrived fashion.
As a popcorn movie at home with friends, you could do worse than Escape Room. But between a choice of going with those friends to catch this in a theater or hitting up an actual escape room, your money will likely be better spent at an actual escape room.
My Grade: C+ (5.8/10)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material, and language)
Running Time: 1h 40min