In the early 2010s a new, adventurous trend began to spread across the United States, as puzzle solvers everywhere locked themselves in dark rooms and attempted to break out. And thus, the escape room phenomenon was born. Hidden clues, trap doors and secret codes all in an effort to beat the clock and claim victory.
Naturally, it was only a matter of time until Hollywood transformed this craze into a major blockbuster movie, right?
Except in “Escape Room,” the stakes are just a little bit higher than a typical escape room. Here, it’s find the exit, or die.
When six strangers mysteriously receive invitations to an exclusive escape room with a $10,000 prize, they quickly realize the themed rooms are far more immersive than they seem. As they discover what they thought to be the office’s waiting room is actually the first challenge, it suddenly transforms into an oven literally roasting the contestants alive. The game has begun, and they scramble to find the answers to elaborate clues in order to aid their escape from the newly present danger. Along the way, the six discover a peculiar connection linking them all together and unravel the secrets behind each room as they fight to survive.
While “Escape Room” gets right down to business and starts out with a strong action sequence and some promising momentum, it quickly comes to a halt, thanks to the film’s biggest flaw: its unlikable characters. Not to mention, they’re pretty basic, too, as each one has a singular defining characteristic.
There’s Zoey (Taylor Russell), the quiet, college smarty-pants, Ben (Logan Miller), the high school burnout, and Jason (Jay Ellis), the business man who’s, simply put, a dick. Then there’s Mike (Tyler Labine), the overly friendly middle-aged man, Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), the veteran suffering from PTSD, and Danny (Nik Dodani), the escape room-obsessed nerd. Each character tries too hard to fit their designated archetype, particularly Ellis as the tough guy, who usually is just being mean for the sake of being mean. In the actors’ defense, the one-dimensional characters that screenwriters Bragi Schut and Maria Melnik created didn’t offer much to work with, but the combined result is lackluster performances all around.
When viewers can’t connect with characters, it’s pretty hard to get them to care whether they live or die, and as a consequence any suspense built by the plot is lost.
For a film based around puzzles, “Escape Room” isn’t nearly as clever as it think it is. Sure, the sequences in the actual rooms themselves are fun and fairly entertaining, but the solutions are often predictable, leaving much to be desired. And as if its character woes weren’t enough, the plot completely collapses in on itself during the third act as the film finally gives in and falls victim to all of the classic horror/thriller tropes.
In the end, “Escape Room” wouldn’t be a true low-budget thriller without an attempt to force a sequel, so in traditional fashion, it tries its best to introduce a final last-minute twist to compel viewers to come back for more, but hopefully this one won’t work. One of these movies is plenty. Instead of sitting through a hundred minutes stuck in this underwhelming escape room, spend 60 minutes trying the real deal – it’ll be far more exciting and worthwhile.
While the idea itself held a serious amount of potential, the end result is a poorly-executed disappointment leaving “Escape Room” destined to fade into the unmemorable nothingness that is early-January releases.
Star Rating: 2 out of 5
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.