2019 | rated PG-13 | starring Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine | directed by Adam Robitel | 1 hr 39 mins | Halloween Horrorfest 2019 #1
The PG-13 studio horror flick, not-produced by Blumehouse, Escape Room starts with a lone young man in a Victorian study room trying to solve clues while the walls clank forward on gears and close in on him. It looks like a slasher movie opening kill until we get a “3 Days Earlier” title card and the reintroduction of the character, Ben, along with the realization that Escape Room just gave away it’s ending. Do studios think flashfowards are cool or is it such an obvious give-away that there has to be a twist to it?
It doesn’t matter. Almost nothing in Escape Room really matters because everything in it pushes and pulls not at the cause and effect of the character’s actions but at the pull of a hand of god and scriptwiting convenience. 6 people, including a shy college student (Taylor Russell), a big-time stockbroker, a warehouse stocker (Logan Miller), a veteran Escape Room player and an Iraq war vet (Deborah Ann Woll, highlight of the film) are invited to the world’s most immersive escape room, where they move from room to room dodging the heat, the cold and poison solving clues toward escape. It’s all just so silly. None of it matters because very much like a late-stage Saw film, it becomes clear that the game is rigged so that there is no way to win certain traps but for one person to die in the process. If there is no way to survive, why care? All of the characters are just being picked off one-by-one no matter what they do at the impossibly all-knowing, all-powerful hands of a group of unseen puppeteers that only exist in serial killer movies. The escape room overlords create contrivances and put their thumb on the scale time and again in the way a hacky writer would. The entire movie is a duex ex machina.
Like all all-powerful secret organizations, the shadowy overlords of Escape Room know everything about every private moment of the contestants and use their fears and experiences against them. The designs of the escape rooms are kind of cool, particularly one built like an upside down pool hall, and Deborah Ann Woll is good, drawing attention here with nothing to work with; but it’s no fun watching them try to get out of the traps because a) several of the puzzles are so easy that the audience will have figured them out way head of the characters and b) the puzzle solutions are intended to relate to the private lives of the characters, things we’ve never seen until the puzzle is presented and someone drops into a flashback that gives them the answer. In Escape Room the problems are presented and then the solutions – exactly backwards of how scripts, nay all stories, are written.
Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key) directs without much style or energy. It starts at the end and ends in a lengthy prologue, sequel set-up that suddenly becomes a different (and more interesting) movie. Actually, it becomes The Belko Experiment. Maybe the temptation to end the movie with the shot of our main character being filmed and then the slow pull-out to reveal a wall of monitors showing people trapped in escape rooms all over the world would have been too cliche even for this movie.