Directed by Adam Robitel
Starring Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis
Pop cultural fads don’t usually make for rewarding viewing experiences; nobody has pitched a movie on the Ice Bucket Challenge yet… I think. But the idea of a group of people frantically trying to find their way out of a locked room seems tailor-made for a thriller. And so we have Escape Room, which, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief with a hundred-foot crane, proves to be quite fun.
The film begins in an auspicious way: A guy crashes down into an elegant, wood-paneled study. He limps around hunting for clues to unlock a puzzle-like lock on the door as the walls start closing in on him, Death Star trash compactor-style. We then return to the beginning of the story, as six people gather in a high-rise waiting room. In the group are a timid, but brainy math student (Taylor Russell, in a role that practically has a neon sign flashing “Good Girl” over her head), a cocky investment banker (Insecure’s Jay Ellis), an Iraq war veteran (True Blood’s Deborah Ann Woll), a blue-collar miner (Taylor Labine), a gaming enthusiast that seems straight out of nerd typecasting (Nick Dodani), and the guy from the opening sequence—an anti-social minimum-wage earner (Logan Miller) who seems to be undergoing some post-traumatic stress.
They have all been lured to this mysterious waiting room by a less elaborate Hellraiser-style box that promises a sizable cash prize for winning the escape room challenge. But it turns out that the waiting room itself is the start of a five-room obstacle course that includes a giant oven, a freezing snowscape, and an upside-down billiard hall with floors that drop to reveal a yawning elevator shaft. And certain death awaits anyone who can’t escape these rooms before time runs out.
The obstacle course may require brain power to suss out hidden clues, but the premise itself is a no-brainer with tried-and-true ingredients. Take a group of disparate stereotypes (to call them characters would imply time and effort fleshing them out, which this movie certainly doesn’t put in), plunk them down in situations that arouse a variety of phobias in the audience, then add the thrill of impending death. That director Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key) and screenwriters Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik manage to keep the proceedings moving at a brisk clip with minimum gore and maximum cleverness is a credit to them.
Sadly, there is an epilogue that spoils all the mayhem that has gone before, ruining what could have been a self-contained gem of a thriller by straining to explain everything. In short, it tries to engage the brain in entertainment that should involve only the tingle of nerve endings. Until that spoiler of an ending, though, Escape Room is devilish, cut-throat fun that won’t have you looking for an exit.
Escape Room is now showing in theaters.
Photographs from Colombia Pictures