FILM REVIEW – ESCAPE ROOM. With Deborah Ann Woll, Taylor Russell, Tyler Labine, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis. Written by Bragi Schut and Maria Melnik. Directed by Adam Robitel. Rated PG-13 for terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material and language. 100 minutes.
January is a time for last year’s Oscar contenders to go wide, if they haven’t already, and for quick releases of movies that will soon be on a streaming service near you. First out of the box for the latter is ESCAPE ROOM, a thriller pitched to viewers with no interest in the more serious Oscar fare. It’s one of those “jump scare” films that will generate screams, clutched arms and – for the more cynical – rolling eyes. It’s definitely “check-your-brains-at-the-door” time.
After a scene of a young man seemingly being crushed in a room where the walls are closing in on him, the scene shifts to a few days earlier, where several people receive a puzzle box that produces an invitation. For an opportunity to win $10,000 they can experience a modern type of entertainment: being locked in a specially designed room and trying to decipher hidden clues to find a way out.
It’s an eclectic group, including an Iraqi war veteran (Deborah Ann Woll), a brilliant and introverted college student (Taylor Russell), the young misfit from the prologue (Logan Miller), a financial wizard (Jay Ellis), a game-playing nerd (Nik Dodani), and a truck driver (Tyler Labine). We quickly learn that each has their own strengths and weaknesses and – important for the plot – secrets as well.
For obvious reasons, to provide any further details would be nothing but spoilers, because that’s all the film is: if you knew what was coming there would be no reason to see it. As they enter each room viewers can try to anticipate the solutions as well as the pitfalls. Some are obvious, and some are ridiculous, but we know from the opening scene where this is heading. Once we get there, there are a few more twists, with the inevitable set-up for a hoped-for sequel perhaps the most obvious and disappointing.
The cast is the best thing here, sketching in their characters in quick strokes so that we can easily follow their arcs. No one here should be expecting any award nominations for their performances, but they show potential for breakouts in future roles. In that sense, the movie’s escape theme may work on more than one level.
However the notion that “Escape Room” is, or ought to be, the launch of a new horror/thriller franchise seems more than overly optimistic. On the other hand, similar movies like “Final Destination” and the odious “Saw” did spawn several sequels, so there really may be no escape.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released this month. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.