Escape Room

2019-03-20 21:55
 
Jay Ellis in "Escape Room."

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

A group of strangers are promised $10 000 for being able to complete a series of difficult “escape rooms” but when they get to the location they quickly find out that it’s not money but their lives that is on the line. 

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

Replacing the gruesome torture-porn of the Saw films with a no less deadly but significantly more PG13 series of puzzles and traps where one false move can mean a horrible end to one of its lucky contestants, Escape Room does an impressive job of making the puzzles smart enough and deadly enough to keep audiences quite solidly gripped throughout. Or, at least, throughout its first two-thirds. At that point, what was once a tense and stripped down thriller gets massively stupid and increasingly less engaging.

Still, the first hour or so really does do its job very efficiently and is easy enough to recommend to fans of films like Saw or the Cube (I actually liked this more than either of those). Sure, it’s all very silly, the characters only have just enough possibility for us to a) tell them apart and b) even remotely care about what happens to at least some of them, and it’s not so much about story as it is about getting a kick out of these imaginative and ludicrously elaborate puzzles/ traps. It also features very little gore so those who are beyond tired of the “torture porn” trope but still want the same cod-moralising and elaborate problem solving, this should more than scratch that itch.

Director, Adam Robitel may well be “best” known for directing the behind-the-scenes documentaries of the Insidious series (I, for one, have never heard of his only previous feature film, The Taking of Deborah Logan) but he does a solid job here, building up the tension while showing a decent grasp of narrative in a film that doesn’t really have much of one. Credit also to screenwriters Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik for coming up with these increasingly bonkers escape rooms in the first place and giving us serviceable enough dialogue and (admittedly sometimes infuriating) characters. Damning with faint praise, that may be, but that’s all that is about all that this sort of film really needs to basically pass with flying colours.

Unfortunate, then, that after the trashy but undeniably entertaining delights of the first two acts of the film, it squanders most of the good will on a final act that makes the fatal mistake of trying to over-explain everything and, worse, set up a sort of mythology that is, at very best, just warmed up Battle Royale. It goes from pleasingly dumb to just annoyingly idiotic. Exciting to boring. Tense to tedious. And basically and fundamentally adequate to embarrassingly inept. 

To be fair, the final act is so monumentally dumb that I would be lying if it didn’t elicit some of those rare eye-roll and giggle-with-incredulity combos, which can be kind of fun in their own way. This final section is not quite so good its bad as much as it is so bad that it’s kind of stupidly funny - while being boring and massively wrong-headed at the same time. It does undermine the first two thirds, to be sure, but it somehow doesn’t entirely ruin the movie.

It’s hard to fully recommend going to the cinema to see Escape Room unless you’re a total sucker for these sorts of films and have a certain masochistic tolerance for a really misguided finale but it is certainly fun enough that it’s well worth checking out if you could find it cheap on your favourite streaming service or stumble upon it late at night. It’s short too so it’s not much of a major time investment either. 

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