Escape Room - 2019
Director(s): Adam Robitel
Writer(s): Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik
Cinematography by: Marc Spicer
Editor(s): Steve Mirkovich
Cast: Deborah Ann Woll, Taylor Russell, Tyler Labine, Logan Miller, Nik Dodani and Jay Ellis
Welcome to January, the month Hollywood treats as their communal dumping ground. The month I tend to use to catch up on indies finally hitting my theaters and trudging to at least one new release that by May I will have forgotten that I ever saw it. First sacrificial lamb of Hollywood is Escape Room, a film that was inspired by the Saw Franchise, the closing line is Vanilla Ice levels of similarities, 1997's Cube, and the escape rooms that every city in America has now. And while it borrows heavily from countless other suspense thrillers, I had a good time watching it. Let's talk about it.
The story follows six strangers who are invited to participate in the hardest escape room ever created. Whoever beats the room, will win the grand prize of ten thousand dollars. Once inside the room, they find out they are not only playing for the cash price; they are playing for their lives. The screenplay Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik penned is drenched in clichés, character archetypes, predictable twists, and expositional dialogue. And yet the gimmick aspect of the film worked and helped me overlook all its flaws to the point of enjoyment. The puzzles are creative and tied to the backstory of the characters. The film strives during its first two acts, and it does unravel toward the end, with the tacked on "will be back" ending leaving a sour taste in your mouth.
Quick note: the ending will make or break the film in a lot of the audiences’ eyes. As the film sets up multiple clues as to the possible outcome, only to pull the rug right under you and tell you “wait for the sequel, and maybe you get the answers”.
Where the film shines are with their practical set designs, stretching their reported nine-million-dollar budget to the max. My favorite being the upside-down bar set. Watching the actors climb, especially Deborah Ann Woll, around the walls, pool table, and the bar was a blast. The camera movement implemented by director Adam Robitel and cinematographer Marc Spicer heighten the tension and created fun visuals. The rooms all vary in style and tone, with the weakest coming right after the upside-down bar. The set looks as if they went scrummaging behind the lot where Saw 3 was filmed and they picked up the green lighting, the beds and the dirty floors. It doesn’t help that this also has the least entertaining puzzle, and the dialogue is an exposition dump of all the characters’ backstory.
The acting is ok, considering what they are given to play with. Deborah Ann Woll (Daredevil) is the star, as Amanda the PTSD war vet, that while at times falters under pressure, she rises to meet the challenge head-on. While it is an assemble cast, Taylor Russell (Lost in Space) comes across as the lead. Playing Zoey, a shy college student searching for her voice by trying new things. Her performance throughout is believable, but there is a turn that I don't know if it was earned, but it sure was fun watching her unhinged. I was happy to see Tyler Labine up on the big screen, Tucker and Dale is one of my favorite horror-comedies of all time. He is the comedic relief of the group, as the older trucker trying to understand what is happening. The rest Nik Dodani, nerd, Jay Ellis, businessman, and Logan Miller, washed-out teen, are fine. Deborah Ann Woll is why I love movies.
Escape Room is a film built around a gimmick that comes close to pulling off if it wasn't for that third act. While it does boast fun visuals and creative puzzles, it never escapes the shadow of Saw or Cube, coming across as a PG-13 version for the teens of today. And maybe that was the goal, and I can see it being entertaining for their target audience. As for me, I found it to be fine and an improvement over what Hollywood usually dumps in January.
Escape Room, it’s a Streamer!
If you like this review let me know in the comment section down below. Subscribe to my newsletter so you are always up to date with all my reviews. Also, follow me over at Twitter (@yILovemovies) or over on Facebook if you want to have a conversation about movies.