Taylor Russell, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis, Nik Dodani
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…the biggest puzzle of Escape Room is why they didn’t spend a little more developing such a promising idea.
Horror movies can work spectacularly well when confined to a limited number of locations. From Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, to Vincenzo Natali’s Cube and, of course, homegrown James Wan’s Saw – not to mention about a million others of varying quality – limited locations can often lead to genuinely clever, imaginative stories.
So, as silly as it may sound, the premise of Escape Room is actually a pretty tidy one. Six strangers are invited to participate in a fancy escape room challenge that promises a prize of $10,000 for those who can complete it. They soon realise, however, this is no ordinary group activity and the stakes are life or death.
It’s a promising start for a genre yarn and the early minutes of Escape Room, comprising the first few rooms, are very enjoyable indeed, featuring clever puzzles and decent tension. See, although the characters are fairly thinly-sketched archetypes – the shy science nerd, Zoey (Taylor Russell), the wounded veteran, Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), the affable father figure, Mike (Tyler Labine) – they all react to their situation using logic and reason, even when they’re shitscared. This is a nice change from the directionally-challenged teens who populate many horror films and actually makes you interested and engaged in who will survive.
Unfortunately, the script cannot support the neat conceit, and somewhere a little over the halfway point the story takes a sharp left turn into Dickhead Junction and never finds its way home. It’s a pity too, because director Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key) does good work here framing the diabolically clever puzzle rooms, with an upside down dive bar location where the floor drops away a piece at a time being a highlight.
Performance-wise the cast are mostly fine, with Deborah Ann Woll and Tyler Labine doing their usual schtick and Russell providing an appealing enough wide eyed earnest protagonist, however the film simply doesn’t know when, or how, to end and offers a baffling array of epilogues and cack-handed twists that simply don’t work.
Sadly, the biggest puzzle of Escape Room is why they didn’t spend a little more developing such a promising idea.