Escape rooms became a thing a few years ago. The basic definition is, a physical adventure game in which players solve a series of riddles and puzzles using clues, hints and strategy to complete the ultimate objective which is to escape the room.
It was only a matter of time until such a concept became a horror movie and thus, we have Escape Room.
The film follows six strangers who are all given an invitation to an escape room where, if they escape, they win $10,000. Unbeknownst to them, each room (There’s more than one) is a death trap and they must solve the puzzle of escaping each room or else they die.
But despite being strangers to one another, the six contestants all share one common bond. This is a neat little trick by director Adam Robitel and the screenwriters. It forces us as the audience to solve not only the puzzles in each room, but figure out the past of each character. It also makes us attempt to care and sympathize with each of them as the film progresses. Some more than others.
Not enough attention is paid to their backstories. Each room has specific triggers for each character flashing back to their past. But if the filmmakers had relied a little more on their commonality and the psychology of it, the film could have been a little more substantive and compelling.
At its core, Escape Room is a mashup of Saw, Final Destination and Cube, a little horror movie from 1997. How can we come up with even more fun and creative ways to kill off each character?
The difference here is that Escape Room is PG-13. At first glance, this might disappoint horror fans who look forward to the gory pay-off. But by keeping it PG-13, Robitel finds inventive ways of scaring the audience by having each room not only unique, but a ticking clock that must be solved or else. The rooms are the star of the film, not the actors.
Another comparable film is The Cabin in the Woods. But that film embraces its clever concept by injecting humor throughout the story. Escape Room has virtually no humor which is a missed opportunity.
When it’s just about trying to solve puzzles to survive, the film works. One room in particular is upside down with a floor that slowly collapses. It’s an entertaining and visually interesting scene with Robitel moving the camera in creative ways to mess with our depth perception.
But as the film progresses and the bigger reveal becomes more clear, Escape Room becomes less and less inventive and unique and more like the other movies I mentioned. The final 30 minutes are utterly preposterous and you can practically see the studio proclaiming, HERE’S YOUR NEXT FRANCHISE!
Escape Room works best when it’s ambiguous and tightly wound. But then it literally traps itself into setting up future installments and feeling like every other franchise in the genre.