Escape Room (2019)
★★ / ★★★★
The problem with “Escape Room,” written by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik, is that its core premise—ordinary people being stuck in a place and are tasked to extricate themselves out of life-or-death situations—has been executed in better, more potent horror-mystery-thrillers (“Cube,” “Saw” series). In the middle of it, one is forced to wonder why the filmmakers felt the need to deliver a more dilute product, one that is clearly made for viewers whose brains have been groomed to go on autopilot right from the opening sequence. For the most part, I found it as dull as tap water with occasional glimmers of curious ideas never expounded upon.
Its idea of entertainment is capturing its characters in panic mode as they attempt to gather clues so they could open a door that leads to the next room. Naturally, more cryptic riddles await. Challenges range from performing under extreme temperatures (would you rather die from heatstroke or hypothermia?) to maintaining focus as perceptions are altered, but it is strange that, from the moviegoing point of view, it never feels like a psychological thriller.
A superficial entertainment is created because not once are we made to understand each character, whether it be how they think, what makes them special subjects, the ways in which they are able to provide results that the Game Masters do not expect. We are given flashbacks designed to underline the connection of the players but these come across as an easy way out, if you will, because the final fifteen minutes is so rushed, interesting ideas are not given a chance to grow and flourish. Sharper writers would have recognized that is correct to end the game about halfway through the material and the other half dedicated to exploring why the so-called game is occurring and who is, or are, in control of it—a standard premise followed by ideas unique to the picture. You see, originality doesn’t always mean having to be distinctive from start to finish.
The actors do a capable job in embodying archetypes, from Jay Ellis who plays a highly confident day trader to Taylor Russell as a timid physics student (Logan Miller, Tyler Labine, Deborah Ann Woll, and Nik Dodani round up the main cast). However, because most of us have an idea of such archetypes and so, from the way the script is written, we know precisely who will make it to the very end. On this level, it is less exciting; as characters begin to drop like flies, only a minimal tension is delivered because we already have an idea that our suspected central protagonist will be safe. The only question is whether the final ten seconds of the picture would kill off the main character. You know how many of these generic horror-thrillers go; for a material that demands imagination, it is astounding how it lacks this very thing.
I enjoyed each room from the perspective of design (the “upside down” room stands out). Each one is distinct from the other and requires a different way of thinking. Had the writing been wiser, it would have allowed for the characters to grow with each challenge. Instead, they almost always end up in a state of panic—cue yelling and screaming—and so each room is a case of déjà vu. The formula is so crippling, tedious at times, that I imagined the ways I could escape from a room where this particular movie was playing.