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Escape Room is a psychological thriller about six strangers who find themselves in circumstances beyond their control and must use their wits to find the clues or die.
Scenes from Escape Room
Deborah Ann Woll stars in Escape Room.
Jay Ellis, Taylor Russell and Logan Miller star in Escape Room.
Taylor Russell stars in Escape Room.
An intriguing invitation brings six strangers together. Initially, they think they have gathered for a highly immersive escape room, but they soon make the sickening discovery that they are pawns in a sadistic game of life and death. Together, they move from one terrifying scenario to the next as they find clues and solve puzzles. But the players soon learn that exposing their darkest secrets may hold the key to survive.
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Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from director Adam Robitel, who just last year brought us "Insidious: The Last Key". Here the movie makers have what sounds like a possibly intriguing premise: put a group in a room which seemingly has no way out, but of course there is if you find the right clues. In the film, the group will go through 5 rooms altogether, and each of the escape rooms has a particular theme to it. So far, so good. Alas, that is it for the good stuff. Now the not-so-good: there is no character development to speak of, with Zoey being the one minor exception. As a result, I have zero emotional involvement in any of them (with the exception of Zoey, however minor). Worse, there is no scary moments to speak of, in fact none. As a result, we merely watch what happens on the screen, but not in a scared way at all. Last but certainly not least: where is all the fun? I'm not having any fun, and it appears neither do any of the 6 lead performers. I can't help but recall "Happy Death Day" of a few years ago (whose sequel was one of the trailers shown in the previews, by the way). which also had an interesting premise ("Groundhog Day" for scary movies), but which brought it with smarts, with some fun and definitely some very scary moments. Too bad "Escape Room" wasn't more like that. I wish I could be more positive about "Escape Room", but the truth is I felt very disappointed.
"Escape Room" opened wide this weekend. The Saturday screening where I saw this at in a large theater was attended okay, but just okay (about 25 people). If you are into scary movies, keep your expectations low, and maybe this will work out fine for you. Of course I encourage you to check it out, be it in the theater, on Amazon Instant Video, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
We get to know more personal information at 66 minutes into the film as we discover a reason for the madness.
How many films have the title "Escape Room" right now? It seems the craze has pushed the success of any film with the title, almost as bad as the numerous "Truth or Dare" films. Then there is "No Escape Room." Guess how that one ends Scooby-doo? Sorry for the spoiler.
I admit I rather enjoyed the film. It is not really horror, but more of a thriller. I wish they had spent more time on the clues so the viewers could play along, but as it was, the pace was unreasonably fast.
Guide: A couple of F-words I missed. No sex or nudity.
The first week of the new year is traditionally one of the slowest times of the year for new motion picture releases.
Usually, the major studios release all of the biggest and most expensive new pictures during Christmastime and the weeks leading up to the holiday, and many of those movies are still in first-run circulation for a few weeks afterward. This year such movies include ”Aquaman,” “Mary Poppins Returns,” “Bumblebee” and even the surprise hit “Bohemian Rhapsody,” now in its tenth week of release. If the movies placed in circulation during the holiday season are among the year’s biggest, the movies released during the weeks following are among the smallest.
The first release of 2019 is “Escape Room,” a minor effort from Columbia Pictures and its parent company, Sony Pictures Releasing. “Escape Room” was produced mostly by rookie filmmakers, contains no major stars, and was completed on a relatively miniscule budget of $9 million. By comparison, the Warner Bros. Christmastime hit “Aquaman” boasted a production budget reportedly in the neighborhood of $200 million.
In “Escape Room,” six disparate individuals are invited to participate in the evaluation of a new virtual game which places them into frighteningly realistic and life-threatening situations. The participants must survive the imaginary perils and escape the rooms by using their wits and problem-solving skills. But as the game intensifies, it becomes more and more apparent to the players that the perils are real...and that the six strangers have more in common than they originally realized.
With comparisons to the popular “Saw” pictures and peddled by the studio mostly toward the audience which traditionally attends horror pictures, “Escape Room” is actually more of a suspense thriller with psychological overtones. The PG-13 rating from the MPAA should be enough to alert the viewer that the blood and gore effects are kept to an absolute minimum, a real tip-off to the picture’s quality and content during these days of graphic, visceral R-rated makeup effects.
Rather, the thrills in “Escape Room” come from the level of intensity the narrative achieves from almost the moment it leaves the gate, and manages to sustain almost throughout the remainder of the picture. The participants find them up to their noses in peril before they’re even aware the game has begun. And after managing to escape in the nick of time from one room containing a catastrophic situation, the players are invariably thrust instantly into another. The upside-down pool parlor especially is a real hoot...until the tiles begin to rain down from the ceiling. Of floor. Whatever.
In this way, “Escape Room” is probably not the choice a viewer wants to make if seeking a night of rest and relaxation at the movies--the level of concentration required by the game and the participants is enough to similarly keep the audience on its toes as well. In fact, the narrative barely gives the viewer a chance to catch his breath.
The participants in the game are from a wide-enough array of professions to ensure that all audience members will have at least one character to associate with--a college student, a securities trader, a survivor of the Afghanistan War. The problem is that the screenplay allows none of the characters a moment to develop a personality or background, and in doing so generate enough sympathy to care about their outcome. Worse, the picture is almost entirely devoid of humor, which amounts to more or less the same thing. There’s nary an endearing wisecrack from among the game’s players.
In a movie which requires compassion and a sense of concern from the audience, the characters are little more than playing pieces, or Monopoly board tokens. Nobody’s given an opportunity to remind the audience that “Escape Room” is actually little more than a virtual age variation of Agatha Christie’s 1939 mystery novel “And Then There Were None,” a work already adapted to the screen by Rene Clair in 1945 and by Peter Collinson in 1974, and also the inspiration for two different films entitled “Ten Little Indians,” in 1965 and 1989
Among the actors appearing in “Escape Room,” Taylor Russell probably fares best as Zoey, a graduate student with an inability to think creatively or anticipate spontaneous developments and situational changes. Challenged by one of her professors to “do something that scares you” during a break from school, the usually shy and socially withdrawn Zoey never realizes that her problem-solving strengths will soon become her ticket to survival.
Logan Miller is also effective as Ben, a recovering alcoholic employed in a dead-end job as a stockboy. Already barely hanging onto sobriety, constantly longing for a cigarette, Ben finds within himself resources he never before expected...and possibly even a will to survive the game. With small roles in such prominent pictures as “A Dog’s Purpose” in 2017 and last year’s “Love, Simon,” Miller’s might be the most familiar face among this largely unfamiliar cast.
The other players--which include Deborah Ann Woll as the war veteran, Tyler Labine as a long-distance trucker and former miner, Jay Ellis as a stock trader, and Nik Dodani as a game enthusiast and escape room expert--are each likable enough to help generate their share of the abundant suspense in “Escape Room.” But none of them are given enough room by the screenwriters to nurture their characterizations, or to breathe real life into their roles.
Written by newcomer Bragi F. Schut in collaboration with Maria Melnik, also a writer on such Starz premium cable television network projects as “Black Sails” in 2014, “American Gods” in 2017, and “Counterpart” that same year, “Escape Room” was directed by Adam Robitel, a co-writer of “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” in 2015 and the director of the horror pictures “The Taking of Deborah Logan” in 2014 and “Insidious: The Last Key” in 2018.
Critically, “Escape Room” is receiving so-so reviews, scoring a 52% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes and an average score of 49% from Metacritic. Rotten Tomatoes notes that the picture “fails to unlock much of the potential in its premise, but what’s left is still tense and thrilling enough to offer a passing diversion to suspense fans.” Exit audiences polled by CinemaScore assign the picture a grade of B.
Distributor Sony Pictures Releasing was hoping to earn up to $14 million from “Escape Room” during its opening weekend in 2717 theaters across the United States and Canada. After earning $7.7 million during its opening day alone, including a whopping $2.3 million from sneak previews on Thursday night, projections were adjusted upward. The picture eventually earned $18 million at the box office during its premiere weekend, exceeding expectations and securing a second place finish for the film behind the returning juggernaut “Aquaman,” which managed to earn an additional $30.7 million in its third week of release.
Trailers for “Escape Room” somewhat incongruously featured folk singer Malvina Reynolds’ early 1960s record “Little Boxes,” also the theme song of the long-running Showtime comedy series “Weeds.” In the movie, invitations to participate in the game are delivered in little boxes. Maybe that’s the connection.
As a real-life entertainment activity, escape rooms became popular in the 2010s throughout North America, Europe, and East Asia. Based on a genre of video game in which a character needs to exploit his environment to escape imprisonment, real-life escape rooms are set in a wide variety of fictional locations--space stations, prison cells, dungeons--and feature various clues and riddles which when solved enable a player or group to escape their confinement.
On the day of the movie’s opening, five girls were killed in a home-based escape room in Koszalin, Poland. The girls, all aged fifteen, were attending a birthday party and died of asphyxiation when they were unable to escape after a fire broke out in the building which contained the escape room attraction. The tragedy has resulted in the Polish government shutting down some thirteen other escape room locations, citing safety flaws and other violations of public codes regulating entertainment sites.
“Escape Room” is rated PG-13 for terror and perilous action, violence, and some suggestive material and language.