Escape Room | Adam Robitel | January 4, 2019
With the start of a new year comes the start of January dumping ground season (see 2017’s Bye Bye Man and 2018’s The Commuter and Den of Thieves for other examples), and 2019’s begins with Sony/Columbia’s Escape Room, a psychological horror/thriller fad film from The Taking of Deborah Logan & Insidious: The Last Key director Adam Robitel.
Escape rooms are a dime a dozen now, and Escape Room is much the same. It’s the fourth film of the same name in the last two years (according to a quick IMDb search, anyway), and the plot and character tropes are nothing new. Writers Bragi Schut (Season of the Witch and 2005 TV series Threshold) and Maria Melnik (Starz’s Counterpart and American Gods) bring together a group of six strangers from different walks of life (a cutthroat finance executive, a shy/introverted college student, a hardware stockroom employee, etc.) for an escape room challenge that is a bit Cube, a bit Saw, a bit The Game, and a bit Unfriended: Dark Web. Who will die and who will escape in record time?
The small cast has some familiar faces, if your TV and movie habits cross genres. Iraq vet Amanda is played by Daredevil‘s Deborah Ann Woll; the emotionally-scarred shy college student Zoey is played by Lost in Space‘s Taylor Russell; blue-collar truck driver Mike is a recognizable Tyler Labine (Tucker & Dale, Reaper); escape room aficionado Danny is played by stand-up comedian Nik Dodani; stockroom employee Ben is played by Love, Simon‘s Logan Miller; and the executive Jason is played by Insecure‘s Jay Ellis.
Escape Room‘s plotting structure is all too familiar, starting near the end of the challenge before jumping back to show how everyone received their puzzle boxes (well, just Zoey, Jason, and Ben), met up, and began competing to survive. The opening frustrated me, as the in media res scene lowered some of the character risk. The introduction of all the characters also created some mild confusion, as we’re left guessing for at least half the 110-minute film who the main character is (out of the 3 seen puzzle recipients and 3 implied recipients). This confusion seeps into why we’re supposed to latch onto and identify with them, as well as how believable their driving traumas and reactions to the rooms (each of which is built around said traumas) are. As for the characters themselves, they don’t veer too far from underdeveloped and/or underutilized but still familiar tropes.
There are also the third act twists. Minos, the organization behind the escape room, isn’t developed, so the main reveal feels like more of a letdown than the dark twist it was likely intended to be, partly because of last year’s aforementioned Dark Web. The mythological name of the organization is also not fully appreciated in or out of Escape Room, as it should ring a bell if you know your Greek and Crete mythology. The three twists that follow in the final 15 or so minutes are also frustrating because of the potential previously-trod paths that could have been taken – some which would have cheapened Escape Room more – and the little thought put into each as late-stage world-building or setting up for a hopefully unlikely sequel. There are also logistical issues – most notably how an organization could create such an immersive multi-room escape challenge in a possibly abandoned office building in Chicago without questions from various local and state authorities about permitting, safety, and so on.
Or maybe, like with escape rooms themselves, I’m looking too much into all the nonsense details rather than finding a pattern.