Escape Room (2019): Movie Review

Escape-Room-750x500I’ve had my eye on “Escape Room” since I first saw its trailer last year and I’m glad that I was invited to be one of the firsts to see it on the big screen at SM Cinema’s advance screening of this psychological horror flick by “Insidious: The Last Key” director Adam Robitel. Unlike the usual paranormal and supernatural fare, Escape Room returns horror fans to a genre of terror that the Saw and Hostel films once occupied.

Synopsis: Six strangers are invited to participate in an immersive escape room experience by a mysterious company called Minos Escape Room but none of them know how and why they have been selected. On the line is a prize of $10,000 for the ultimate winner. However, as reclusive Physics student Zoe (Taylor Russell), grocery clerk Ben (Logan Miller), stock broker Jason (Jay Ellis), war vet Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), truck driver Mike (Tyler Labine), and gamer Danny (Nik Dodani) start solving the puzzles, they realize their lives are at stake because the escape rooms are more immersive than they thought.

“Escape Room” immediately brings to mind the successful Saw horror franchise. Its hard not to make comparisons because it follows the same format. A Gamemaster controls how the game is played from a remote location as the gamers work together to solve a series of puzzles to get out of the room alive. Like Saw, the escape rooms also carry links to their past, but one that they don’t immediately connect until the final rooms are revealed.

This is where the comparison stops, however. While Saw methodically revealed each character’s back story and why the puzzle connects to them, Escape Room makes all the players play the same game only to explain what they were doing there as a group in a single reveal.

Saw underscored the humanity and the flaws of each character, which made audiences understand why they were chosen to play in Jigsaw’s deadly maze, but Escape Room takes a more scientific approach. Players represent variables in a game that is designed to have a constant result. This is perhaps why the approach to the scenes felt more clinical and strategic, rather than gory and terrifying. To its credit, Escape Room teases the audiences’ brains with puzzles and keeps them engaged in figuring out the hows and the whys in stylish fashion.

TIME TO WORK TOGETHER. Players try to figure out a way out of the first escape room. 

It also proceeds at a very quick pace and utilizes state of the art technology to make the rooms as immersive as possible. This technology also enables the unknown game master to watch each move carefully and calculate the odds against the players. To a degree, this provides for quite an exciting pace and maintains the sense of urgency for the characters. It provides them with the right incentive to reveal their true colors, which they do. On the downside, though, because the action happens too quickly, there is not enough time to establish a deep connection with the characters to make audiences fully invested in what happens to them.

Also on the downside if you watched the full trailer, it reveals too much of the important scenes which kind of ruins the surprise when the film reveals the rooms and you realize you’ve seen it before. So, if you haven’t seen the trailer, don’t. Watch the movie and allow yourself to enjoy each scene for the first time at the theater.

There were many cool rooms and good moments to get excited about but I think that for the ending, there was an actual scene after the survivors completed the challenge that should have made more impact. I felt that in the interest of keeping fans discussing the film in message boards in the months to come, the film should have left the ending at this ambiguous point rather then extend to more scenes that seemed like it was trying to hard to tease a sequel or jumpstart a new horror franchise. I’m not going to spoil it for you though.

All in all, Escape Room is an experience all by itself. It leaves you no time to think about the repercussions before it serves you up a new problem that you feel compelled to solve at the same time as the players. It eliminates characters in lightning fast fashion with no mercy and pure accuracy.  This was the film’s bane, as well as its boon. Don’t expect too much blood and gore though because this is not Escape Room’s MO.

Escape Room opens in cinemas Feb. 27.