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Friday, January 04, 2019

Escape Room

Escape Room is a toothless and bloodless throwback to those horror franchises from the 2000s like Saw, Hostel and Final Destination about people dying in creative and gruesome ways.  The big difference is that this movie is PG-13, so it can't exactly rely on over-the-top splatter effects to amuse its audience like its predecessors could.  One would think that director Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key) would use this as an opportunity to create some creepy atmosphere, or maybe some interesting characters trapped in the deadly game.  Sadly, one would be mistaken.  Outside of a few interesting set designs, the movie comes up short in just about every way.

The premise is a familiar one.  Six people from different walks of life find a wooden puzzle box, which when completed, invites them to compete in an immersive "Escape Room" game, where they must solve puzzles in order to escape from increasingly difficult rooms, with the grand prize being $10,000.  The catch, naturally, is that the rooms are really deathtraps, and have been designed where the six challengers must compete with each other to see who can survive.  There is one room that turns into a literal oven, one that is made up like a snowy forest with the temperature dropping to a deadly cold, and (my personal favorite), an upside down bar where the floor is slowly breaking apart.  The idea behind the film is that we the audience are supposed to take bets on who is going to survive, although the film does kill the suspense of this with an unnecessary prologue sequence that's set during events near the end of the movie, before it flashes back to the beginning.  The problem is, I didn't find much interesting, or to like, about the victims, so I didn't much care.

The people trapped in this deadly game run the gamut from a shy and withdrawn college student (Taylor Russell), a haunted young man dealing with some personal demons (Logan Miller), a war veteran suffering from PTSD (Deborah Ann Woll), a middle aged trucker (Tyler Labine), a hot-headed young business executive (Jay Ellis), and a young video game-obsessed geek (Nik Dodani).  Most of these characters have some kind of tragic backstory that is tied into the puzzles that they must solve, and it also connects them in a certain way.  So, whoever is behind this deadly game somehow knows everything about them.  The way the movie fits these backstories into its puzzles can be rather awkward.  For example, in one instance, they must escape a snowbound cabin by figuring out a seven letter name that can unlock the door.  The answer to the puzzle is "Rudolph".  The reason?  Because one of the players was in a car accident once, and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" happened to be playing on the radio at the time of the crash!  Uh-huh...

Who is behind the game, and how do they know such intimate details about these peoples' tragic lives?  Naturally, I can't reveal the first answer for the sake of spoilers.  As for the "how do they know" part, I honestly cannot tell you.  Sadly, the ending does not explain much, and actually seems to be trying to set up a sequel, which I'm sure we'll see next January if this movie should happen to make back its budget during the opening weekend.  A mastermind behind the deadly game is revealed, but then the movie shows us that the answer actually is much bigger than we think, and that is the hook the filmmakers think will leave us clamoring for more.  Fat chance, I say.  The movie also has one of those endings where it doesn't seem to know when to end.  First we get a lengthy scene where the villain spells everything out, while managing to not really explain everything.  Then we get the fake out ending, where it seems like everything is okay, then it's not.  Then we get the epilogue set six months later.  Then we get the final reveal to set up a sequel.  It's like the screenwriters couldn't decide on what ending cliche to use, so they just tossed them all into the script.

You go to a movie like Escape Room for some gruesome thrills, but due to the film's rating and sanitized nature, it offers none.  Sadly, it also can't deliver on any thrills or suspense, so there's really nothing of interest on display.  Sure, some of the room designs are kind of clever, but that's not enough to support a 100 minute thriller.  In other words, this is your typical January dumping ground fare.

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