Escape Room
Director – Adam Robitel
Cast – Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, Nik Dodani
Rating – 2/5

As refreshingly original as Escape Room might seem on the surface, it borrows heavily from a long list of similar suspense films, limiting its appeal to casual moviegoers and ensuring that in the minds of horror aficionados, it will forever be an inferior copy.

It has the Kafkaesque set-up of Vincenzo Natali’s Cube, the claustrophobia of the M Night Shyamalan-produced Agatha Christie reimagining, Devil, and the ambition of a rejected Black Mirror episode.

Six strangers are selected, seemingly at random, and invited to participate in an Escape Room game, whose winner stands a chance to earn $10,000 and a shot at redemption. Little do they know that the game in which they are about to participate is hardly the innocent afternoon activity they’d anticipated – it is, instead, a terrifyingly detailed, hyper-realistic excuse for a madman to exercise physical and psychological torture.

The first stage of the game literally traps the characters in an oven, and the scenarios get steadily more imaginative after that. The last time someone escaped from a room this harrowing, Brie Larson won an Oscar.

Watch the Escape Room trailer here

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Escape rooms – in the real world – are a relatively new fad; they’re physical constructions of something you might have experienced in a video game – rooms in which the players are locked, and then given clues to riddles and puzzles that would aid in their escape, within a time limit. To add another dimension to the horror, the rooms can be themed – from the literal interpretation of the ninth circle of hell to 1940s-style film noir.

Eerily, around the same time as the release of this film in the United States, news of the first reported casualties from an escape room game emerged from Poland. Five young girls, celebrating a birthday party, were killed in a freak fire.

Ideally, escape rooms are meant to be a kind of team-building exercise, encouraging participants to work together, for a common goal. I can imagine soul-sucking corporations paying good money to have their employees bussed to one of these locations, only for them to emerge with little else but the satisfaction that they skipped work that day.

The only thing that can make this more exciting is if groups are randomly selected – which is what the film does, to its credit. To constrain opposing personalities in close proximity of each other, in a high pressure situation, offers huge potential for drama. Just ask the Avengers.

The trouble with Escape Room, however, is that it’s too proud to embrace its B-movie premise, and feels the need – especially in its third act – to instil some amount of emotion into the proceedings. It feels a little strange to fault a film for aiming high, but Escape Room is hardly David Fincher’s The Game. It is, charitably speaking, a wannabe Saw movie.

Had it focussed on creating imaginative death sequences in the manner of a Friday the 13th film, Escape Room could have been a fun time – it’s certainly miles ahead of director Adam Robitel’s previous film, Insidious: The Last Key. But to expect half-attentive audiences to suddenly feel invested in the lives of thinly-sketched characters is asking for too much.

Also read: Insidious: The Last Key movie review – Having your Aadhaar details leaked is a more fun experience

The interplay between them is neither funny nor tense – precisely because we know so little about them. And without a clear favourite to root for, the logical next step is to simply want them to die.

All is not lost, however. To wash the taste away, be sure to check out Coherence, a terrific science-fiction film with a similar premise. The film traps eight people at a dinner party, and sends them into delirium when a passing comet creates an alternate reality across the street. And while you’re at it, why not watch Exam, a wicked little British thriller in which a bunch of candidates are made to sit for a test, in a locked room, and are given three rules: ask no questions, don’t spoil the paper, and do not talk. They learn the hard way what the consequences of breaking even one rule can be.

Both films are excellent examples of the sort of movie Escape Room wants to be.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Feb 01, 2019 13:11 IST


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