Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Adam Robitel

Stars: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Tyler Labine, Deborah Ann Woll, Nik Dodani, Jay Ellis, Yorick van Wageningen.

Jay Ellis, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Taylor Russell, and Nik Dodani in Escape Room (2019)

Six strangers are brought together in an escape room challenge and have to use their wits when the game turns lethal in this hybrid horror thriller/survival thriller. It’s a bit like Saw, but without the torture porn element.

The six strangers who seemingly have nothing in common each receives a mysterious little cube. When they manage to open it it contains an invitation to a high intensity escape room experience located near the Chicago docks. The six are: Zoey (Taylor Russell, from Before I Fall, and the recent reboot of classic tv series Lost In Space, etc), a reserved and quietly spoken but smart college student who doesn’t speak up even when she knows the answers; Ben (Logan Miller, from A Scout’s Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse, etc), a slacker and chronic underachiever who stacks shelves in a local convenience store;Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll, from tv series True Blood, Daredevil, etc), a veteran of the Iraq war and a former soldier who still bears the scars of her combat experience but who has the physical ability to face the challenges; Danny (Nik Dodani, from Murphy Brown, etc) is a geek and veteran escape room enthusiast who has explored many such rooms; Jason (Jay Ellis, from tv series The Game, etc), a smooth, slick but arrogant businessman; and Mike (Tyler Labine, from Tucker & Dale Vs Evil, etc), a truck driver who is considerably older than the rest of the gang.

The six meet in a lavishly appointed waiting room where they browse through magazines and chat until the room begins to turn into an oven. They desperately try to uncover the clues that will lead them to the key to unlock the room. Once they leave that room they they face other rooms which become increasingly more deadly. There is a wilderness room, a rustic log cabin, an inverted billiards room and bar (shades of the classic The Poseidon Adventure), and even a hospital ward. Each of the rooms has been carefully designed to tap into the fears, phobias and past traumatic experiences of each of the players. There is a race against time element to it all and $10,000 prize money awaits the survivor. The six soon discover that they have to work together and cooperate in order to overcome each new challenge.

Who will survive? Who is the sinister mastermind who has devised these challenges? How does he know so much about each of the players? A coda adds confusion rather than clarity to the twisted logic as it seems designed to merely set the scene for the inevitable sequel and kickstart a new franchise.

Written by Bragi F Schut (Season Of The Witch, etc) and Maria Melnik (American Gods, etc) Escape Room is a high concept thriller that creates some inventive ways to kill off the characters. The film taps into that current cultural phenomenon that has seen thousands of escape rooms spring up in cities around the world. But none are as fiendish or as deadly as the one depicted here. There is some impressive production design from Edward Thomas, who has worked on the Resident Evil series, that has created these individual rooms. And there is some nice cinematography from Marc Spicer (Furious 7).

The director is Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key, etc) and he draws influences from a number of films like Hostel, Cube, the Saw franchise as he creates some elaborate set pieces. His direction is fast paced and there is very little flab in the deft 100 minute running time. He effectively ratchets up the tension.

While the characters may seem one dimensional, the ensemble cast interact easily with each other, occasionally clashing and creating a variety of dynamics within the group. Russell is a stand out amongst the small but effective cast, while Woll has a strong physical presence.

Escape Room is an enjoyable time at the movies and something of a guilty pleasure and a vicarious thrill ride.


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