The popularity and conceit of escape rooms lends itself to cinematic thrills, while the
static, intimate environment means fewer sets, smaller casts, and tighter budgets. In
other words, Adam Robitel’s Escape Room, opening 1/4, isn’t the first film to use this
setting, or even that title, and it’s unlikely to be the last. How, then, does this Escape
Room stand out?
Unfortunately, since escape rooms themselves in many ways crib their settings and
conceits from mystery, suspense, and horror movies, we run into familiar territory
throughout Escape Room. Six Chicago-area strangers have been invited to take up a
mysterious escape room challenge for a $10,000 prize. The stakes raise quickly, as the
normally quaint and chintzy escape room tropes turn dangerous, then deadly. A familiar
cycle of confrontation and cooperation follows as the group bests some puzzles as they
shrink in number due to fatal tricks and traps. Along the way, they learn that they each
share a grisly past. This is where Escape Room seems at it’s most familiar; the Saw,
Hostel, and Cube franchises play similar games with audience expectations. Unlike
those, however, Escape Room isn’t really a horror film, and it’s not an exploitation film at
all. With an austere approach to gore, a camera that doesn’t linger on the bodies of its
attractive cast, and restrained performances in a milieu that tends to encourage a play-
to-the-bleachers ham, Robitel elevates the material by knowing when to lean into, and
when to subvert, cliché, buttressed by strong performances from a well-rounded cast.
Taylor Russell (Netflix “Lost in Space”) and Deborah Ann Woll (HBO’s “True Blood”,
Netflix’s “Daredevil” ) offer twists on the “brain” and “jock” tropes of their respective
characters. Fans of HBO’s “Insecure” will be happy to see Jay Ellis play against type as a
cocky finance bro.
Escape Room offers funhouse thrills that are accessible to a burgeoning or would-be
horror film fan who perhaps still sleeps with a nite-light.
ESCAPE ROOM, Columbia Pictures’ intense new psychological thriller, is set to open nationwide on January 4, 2019.