Es­cape Room is high­con­cept and not half bad

The Myanmar Times - - Metro -

IN ret­ro­spect, it’s ac­tu­ally kind of sur­pris­ing that there hasn’t been an es­cape room-themed hor­ror movie un­til now. The pop­u­lar in­ter­ac­tive mys­tery games are kind of mini films. There’s a built-in set, stakes, op­por­tu­ni­ties for con­flict and team­work and a log­i­cal start and fin­ish. It’s cer­tainly a more ob­vi­ous fit for a movie than a board game or theme park ride.

So, from the imag­i­na­tions of Fast & Fu­ri­ous pro­ducer Neal H. Moritz and In­sid­i­ous: The Last Key di­rec­tor Adam Ro­bi­tel comes Es­cape Room, where the char­ac­ters are as random as an au­di­ence-cho­sen im­prov group (In­vest­ment banker! Soldier! Miner! Smart teen! Gro­cer!), the rooms look like dis­carded Nine Inch Nails mu­sic video sets (not ex­actly a crit­i­cism), the stakes are US$10,000 or death, which seem far too low and too high, and every­one agrees that Pe­tula Clark’s Down­town is a bad song (which is both in­cor­rect and a strange, rude hill to die on).

As if the film is con­cerned that the au­di­ence will lose in­ter­est im­me­di­ately, Es­cape Room starts at the end, as a lone man, Ben (Lo­gan Miller), des­per­ately tries to fig­ure out the clues in a room that is quickly clos­ing in on it­self, Star Wars trash-com­pactor-style. It’s cer­tainly a jolt of en­ergy up front, but right as things are look­ing re­ally bleak for Ben, it cuts to “three days ear­lier.” It’s cheap and a lit­tle in­sult­ing to have to re­as­sure the au­di­ence that there is some ex­cit­ing and har­row­ing stuff to come as long as they get through all the bor­ing in­tro­duc­tory stuff. At least it doesn’t re­sort to the old record-scratch, freeze-frame, “you’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing how I got here” standby.

The thing is, Es­cape Room isn’t ac­tu­ally all that bad, just kind of silly, but it takes a mo­ment to read­just your ex­pec­ta­tions af­ter that con­de­scend­ing be­gin­ning, and a very phonedin in­tro­duc­tion to the un­lucky six Chicago strangers who all re­ceive a mys­te­ri­ous box and de­cide, what the heck, let’s check out this es­cape room. There’s the skit­tish but bril­liant col­lege stu­dent Zoey (Tay­lor Rus­sell), the ruth­less fi­nance guy Ja­son (Jay El­lis), the vet­eran who hates heat, Amanda (Deb­o­rah Ann Woll), the reg­u­lar joe, Mike (Tyler Labine) and the es­cape room ob­ses­sive who hon­estly never does all that much to help, Danny (Nik Do­dani).

Cu­ri­ously no one seems all that con­cerned about the odd premise that this team ac­tiv­ity could have a sin­gle win­ner at all, or per­haps they think they’ll all win US$10,000. I guess it be­comes clearer when peo­ple start dy­ing in the rooms.

And, boy, are they put through the wringer. The have to brave ex­treme heat, ex­treme cold, poi­son, drugs, ris­ing ten­sions and body counts while try­ing to fig­ure out how to get out of each puz­zle room, a few of which are pretty in­ter­est­ing. It’s like a Fi­nal Des­ti­na­tion spinoff where each char­ac­ter’s past trauma haunts them. Mer­ci­fully, all the car­nage is kept to tol­er­a­ble PG-13 lev­els.

The film­mak­ers haven’t gone so far as to put you in the game, too. A lot of it is watch­ing all the char­ac­ters find keys and have their own rev­e­la­tions, so by the time you get to the fifth room, it’s un­der­stand­able if in­ter­est is start­ing to wane a bit even with the ad­di­tion of a link be­tween the six peo­ple.

The third act re­ally kind of blows it though and the movie es­sen­tially ends with a shrug and the pos­si­bil­ity for a se­quel. You could do worse in Jan­uary. And any­one al­ready in­ter­ested in the idea of an es­cape room that tries to kill you prob­a­bly isn’t ex­pect­ing all that much out of this any­way. – AP

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