As an escape room and immersive theater enthusiast myself, I was pretty excited to see ESCAPE ROOM’s interpretation of the current entertainment trend. Its PG-13 rating made me a little apprehensive and I was crossing my fingers that this wouldn’t be another cheesy and predictable mainstream teen horror flick, but director Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key, The Taking of Deborah Logan) lead it in the right direction - far from cheesy and alarmingly realistic and unnerving.
The movie begins by introducing us to three of the six strangers who are gifted admission to what is supposed to be the most immersive escape room in the country. Zoey (Taylor Russell) is brilliant but introverted college student, Jason (Jay Ellis) is a hot shot stock broker, and Ben (Logan Miller) is retail backroom worker with a drinking problem. The first puzzle they each have to solve is the box containing the invitation. Escape game aficionados will enjoy this, as most of us have spent time working on (and cursing at) something similar in the waiting rooms of the games we’ve tried our hands at.
The three arrive separately to the waiting room and meet their new team members - Iraq veteran Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), truck driver Mike (Tyler Labine), and die-hard immersive enthusiast Danny (Nik Dodani). Danny was easily my favorite character with his nerdy references (he even name dropped some of my favorite area escape room companies!) and charming naivety. His oohing and aahing at every detail, puzzle and set design element was 100% relatable. After a few brief moments of getting to know each other, the game begins without the players even realizing. In real-life escape rooms, you shouldn’t have to use outside knowledge to complete any of the puzzles. To their dismay, the group begins to recognize that the ‘game’ is catered to each of them, with references to their deepest secrets. And they quickly find that it’s more than a game, it’s life or death!
The film’s writers, Maria Melnik and Bragi Schut, did a solid job of developing these six and their backstories into characters we cared about and rooted for. It never felt like they were just there for slaughter, which can be common in this genre. I was also impressed by the amazingly detailed sets and intricate puzzles that were used. The sets were beautiful and creative, and most of the puzzles seemed like they could actually work outside of Hollywood movie magic.
ESCAPE ROOM as a whole wasn’t overly predictable. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the movie, when motivations were revealed, that it started to feel familiar. It was reminiscent of The Belko Experiment or Saw franchise but steered clear of the ‘torture porn’ style those movies were known best for. With its rating there was a lot less gore, but the film didn’t seem to lack it. Tension was kept high throughout and the attention to detail in each room kept things very interesting, and terrifying. ESCAPE ROOM was a well-rounded thriller that I think did the industry it portrayed justice (aside from all the killing). I’d be happy to see this turn into it its own franchise.