Escape Room is a new horror film directed by Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key). It follows a group of six strangers who are invited to participate in the world’s best escape room, only to find out that their lives are actually at stake. January horror is notoriously rough, but this movie may just be the one to break the trend.
The premise of this film is pretty ingenious. Escape rooms are a concept that has seemingly taken the world by storm, and their purpose is the sense of mystery and excitement. It makes for a perfect premise for a horror-thriller movie. The film plays out almost like a PG-13 version of Saw. The biggest issue with “torture porn” movies has always been their overreliance on gore, and the PG-13 rating forces Escape Room to take different routes to scare and/or entertain the audience. As a result, the film is far more interesting.
It never manages to be scary, but the movie is always intense and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it is easy to predict the twists and turns, and the “croaking order” can be pegged from the start, but it is also easy to get wrapped up in the puzzles. Apart from the fact that it’s potentially deadly, you almost want to be right there with them solving the mystery. It’s surprisingly immersive for the genre.
The characters are somewhat archetypal, but they are mostly likable. The film takes advantage of the basic human pathos to which the characters’ situation calls, allowing us to care for the characters despite their mostly generic nature. There is enough backstory given to each of them (save one — the unlucky soul who croaks first) that they feel interesting enough that we actually want them to survive the night.
The script, written by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik, does rely on a few too many conveniences. Thankfully, it doesn’t ever feel completely contrived, but some of the plot points make you scratch your head and wonder why it was a good idea to take this route. This is especially the case with the big twist in the movie coming at the end of the second act, that explains why the uncanny cast of misfits found themselves together. (It is a tad reminiscent of a similar, but more meaningful twist in Get Out.) In fact, the whole film begins to unravel itself in the third act, and while the experience as a whole is still enjoyable, the finale doesn’t live up to the excellent set-up in the first hour.
The single biggest issue with this film, though, is its treatment of autism. Why are so many movies using autism as a plot device now? Granted, The Predator was far worse in the way in which it handled the disability, but this movie is still insensitive at times. Hollywood needs to get the memo that this isn’t cool or funny or necessary. It’s just flat-out offensive. There is even one character that makes remarks like, “Come on, Rain Man!” Thankfully, another character calls him out for it, but it still feels like it was in bad taste.
The biggest success of this film is its set design. Much like the movie’s namesakes, there is an immense level of detail put into the sets. They are built with a ton of precision and attention to detail. (If the third act of the script had as much attention to detail, this could have been not only a fun horror movie, but a thought-provoking one too.) Apart from one or two shots with cheap CGI, the visuals are pretty solid. The ensemble is also above average for a horror film, with strong performances from Logan Miller and Jay Ellis leading the pack.
Overall, Escape Room was a refreshingly fun time at the movies. Sure, it isn’t perfect, but if you can turn your brain off, it’s enjoyable to watch and there are some great sets at which you can marvel.
Escape Room is now playing in theaters.