Take any new fancy-dan social activity and you can guarantee within six months a horror film will put a team of hapless individuals through a similarly based 90 minutes of blood, ghosts or decapitations. Escape Room is that latest trend. Only just taking off in the UK but a little more established in the US, the concept of the Escape Room is that you pay good money to be locked into a series of rooms, needing to solve puzzles to stop being stuck. It doesn’t take much of a reach to come up with the additional ‘…to stop being stuck…FOREVER!’ tagline does it? Still, this genre has legs; Saw and Cube both did a fine job in creating the claustrophobic horror of answering riddles correctly or having limbs chopped off.
Tyler, Natasha, Christen, Anderson and Tabby are superior types Brett Eastern Ellis eats for breakfast. The moment they meet for Tyler’s birthday party at an upmarket low-lit restaurant you realise that watching these people go through their subsequent gore is not going to be a particularly difficult experience. When Tyler’s girlfriend Christen reveals at the dinner table that she has bought the group an exclusive Escape Room experience, they reluctantly offer their wallets and mobile phones for confiscation and step into the back of a black van with champagne and no windows. When they eventually arrive at the Escape Room, they are blind-folded and split up into different rooms, with nothing to initially suggest a means of escape.
There are two pressing problems with Escape Room. Firstly, the puzzles are far too easily answered by the group. Most are mind-bogglingly obscure yet Tyler, whose genius we are constantly reminded of, solves them as if doing a crossword puzzle in a CBeebies weekly. Secondly, the assembled group are so utterly unlikable that you simply don’t care which one of them is knocked off next. Without a single agreeable trait between them, they simply feel like gore-fodder, which works for a while, but you soon start to ache for someone to support through the panic.
Escape Room also flies far too close to the Saw cannon. The torture devices and puzzle-to-violent-end model is indistinguishable from every Saw film ever made but Escape Room feels like one of far reaching sequels rather than the interesting first couple.
The ending then lets everything down. There are a couple of loose threads which seem to be intentionally confusing the audience into guesswork to the outcome, yet these sub-plots are ultimately left hanging and the ending instead flops into a frustratingly confused finale. Whether alternative endings were originally perceived, or the editing process needed to clutter the cutting room floor a little more is unknown. It feels like so much more could have been done to make this into a genuinely interesting movie.
Escape Room is a fine late Friday night film to watch with mates with enough slaughter and toe-curling moments to satisfy an after-hours pizza gathering. If you were still buying into the Saw franchise after the third chapter, then it’s probably worth searching it out. If not, it’s a hard reach for anyone other than a hardcore carnage addict.
Dir: Will Wernick
Scr: Noah Dorsey, Will Wernick
Cast: Evan Williams, Annabelle Stephenson, Elisabeth Hower, Dan J. Johnson, John Ierardi, Kelly Delson
Prd: Kelly Delson, Sonia Lisette
DOP: Jason Goodell
Music: Jeremy Miles Ferguson
Run Time: 81 minutes
Escape Room is available on Digital Download now.