Escape Room Review – Riddle Me This, Riddle Me That
What would happen if you jet washed all the gore and viscera off of the Saw and Hostel franchise? Well you’d get Escape Room of course!
“Minos Escape Room Facility would like to welcome you to this experience. Please be warned that there are risks of human combustion, hallucinations and spoilers ahead. Enjoy your stay, and thank you for your service.”
Escape Room is Adam Robitel’s third foray into the world of horror films and it definitely sits right in the middle of that repertoire for me. We begin with a pre-credit sequence that introduces us to a disheveled young man as he frantically searches for clues in a library style room that has a compacting wall (think garbage compactor in Star Wars). Just as it looks like we’re going to see this poor boys head go smush we flashback to three days prior to find out how this unfortunate soul ended up in such a mess. This is where the 15 certificate becomes apparent. As much as there are similarities to torture porn films this one is never going to reach those levels, and in all honesty, I’m okay with that.
We are introduced initially to three characters, shy academic Zoey (Taylor Russell), ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ wannabe Jason (Jay Ellis) and smush boy from the opening, now known as Ben (Logan Miller). Each character receives a mysterious box that when opened reveals an invitation to an exclusive escape room (not the portal to hell and a bunch of kinky cenobites). Like good pawns in a sinister game our cast all turn up to the Minos Escape Room Facility, eager to escape and win $10,000.
Our supporting characters include war veteran Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), the comical former miner Mike (Tyler Labine) and super escape room nerd Danny (Nik Dodani). My problem with this setup is that the film has already told us who is important and who is disposable just through the opening act. What’s even more problematic is that the two most endearing characters, Amanda and Mike, are clearly the Red Shirts of the film.
Now the game of death begins. When Ben tries to nip back outside for a pre-mystery solving fag he fully Hulks the door handle off and they discover that this is no mere waiting room, this is their first escape room! Dun-dun-dun. The rooms in this film are definitely the main selling point and they are visual stunning, even if some of the puzzles within them are a bit meandering.
Room 1 is a living nightmare for pyrophobic Amanda as it transforms itself into an evil Easy Bake Oven. Obviously it takes a little while for everyone to wise up to the fact that there’s no hint system or emergency exit to this game. Survive or die, those are the only options. As the heat rises the group must accept their fate and figure out how to prevent themselves from become overdone cookies. Luckily they discover that they can use cups of water to sink pressure points on a table that opens the exit, bad news though is there’s not enough water for all six glasses so they have to get creative. In my head I assumed someone was about to pee in a glass, however they kept it a little bit more savoury and simply made the rebellious Ben pour out his secret flask of whisky. Bet he wished he still had that in the next room.
Room 2 is a beautiful cottage in a picturesque winter wonderland. It’s incredible set design that brings the outdoors indoor. Ben solves the code to open the cabin door when he realises that it links to an accident from his past. There also seems to be a connection to Jason in this icey room. Jason knows a lot about hyperthermia and definitely recognises the single bright red jacket that has been left for them to share. However, this is pushed aside by our first death!
The group has managed to locate the key to escape, through sweetheart Mike and his fishing skills, however it’s in the centre of a block of ice. As Danny heads across the frozen lake the ice cracks beneath him and he is pulled mercilessly by an undercurrent, pounding against his icey ceiling to no avail. It’s not a gruesome death but it is a death which means the stakes have been set.
No time to grieve though, the temperature is dropping and the gang still need to get the key out of the ice block before they become too disorientated to even know where they are. Now, I don’t want to get a reputation here, but once again my first instinct was pee. As they all take it in turns trying to use their hand warmth to melt down this solid cube of ice all I could think was, bit of pee would do the trick. There plan does work eventually and they manage to escape to the next room.
Throughout the first two rooms there was hints of personal exploration, Amanda’s fire scars, Jason’s red coat and Ben’s Christmas sing-a-long, however the upside down room is not treated to such exposition. There’s a flashback to Zoey stuck in her seat after a plane crash that utilises similar confusing perspective as this new upside down room, but that seems like a bit of a reach. There’s also a close up reactive shot from Mike as they see the bar which means it could be connected to him, but again this seems like I’m trying to make more sense of it than the screenwriter was so I’m really not sure.
Lack of meaning aside this room is visually stunning and the camera perspective keeps the confusion and tension high. The use of a musical cue and disappearing floor made this room the most suspenseful. The group must traverse the walls and shelves in a deadly game of ‘The Floor is Lava’ in order to solve a puzzle and gain a code that opens a safe with a doorknob inside. We lose another member here and this one I really didn’t want to see go. The only saving grace is that Amanda doesn’t fall victim to the trap, she is strong to the end and sacrifices her own safety for the group, she goes out a hero.
Now this is where the rooms become even more confusing. The next room is set up as multiple hospital rooms in a warehouse, each one exact replicas of where our group found themselves after being the sole survivor of an accident/incident. This scene was clearly a mixture of exposition and a race to get to the final act of the film. It also held a few of the plot holes that Escape Room falls victim to throughout its run. A set of x-rays reveal in sign language the letter EKG which is the main clue of the room. However they only know that because Ben understands sign language. What if he fell through the ice in room two? Or was still doing his best impression of a well-done steak in room one? Does this mean that there is some order to this game, some external force who is controlling the outcome?
Surrounded by cameras and with the threat of breathing in poisonous gas this room becomes the catalyst for Zoey finally having enough of the rules. She refuses to play the game and instead begins smashing the cameras to ruin the fun of whatever creepy dirtbags are watching them. There are two plans in play now, one group is desperately trying to figure out the puzzle and the other is trying to destroy the system and reveal the reason they are all here in the first place.
Group one’s plan doesn’t seem to be going very well as Jason straight up kills Mike. There’s no two ways about it, Jason is a murderer. He forces Mike to take shock after shock and shows zero remorse for removing the funniest and most sincere character from the film. It’s obvious throughout that Jason’s a selfish prick and when he tells his sob story about him and his friend being abandoned in the ocean the audience simply know that his ‘sole surviving’ was not accidental. This guys is a narcissistic sociopath in the vein of Patrick Bateman but with significantly less charisma.
So clearly I enjoyed his death thoroughly. As we enter the second to last room it is a Tim Burton meets M.C. Esher mash up of black and white psychedelic images. Again, not sure who’s personal room this was meant to be, maybe a commentary on Ben’s inebriation? The rooms start off so well planned and then just seem to spiral into ‘oh this would be cool’. At this point I’d stopped guessing and was just waiting for the big climax of the film. Ben fights off Jason, accidently killing him in the process, and drops through a grate into the Library Room we began with in the pre credit sequence.
Once Ben escapes this room he is congratulated as the ‘sole survivor’ amongst ‘sole survivors’ and the back story becomes a little clearer. The room is industrial and full of monitors from the camera feeds and a giant Battle Royale style board with all the players faces either crossed out or lit up. Ben is informed that this is a form of entertainment that has been running for a long time with different contestant groups. There’s a definite Belko Experiment vibe her with the idea that this has happened multiple times and also a real Hostel feel. I mean this is another film about rich weirdos getting a boner over the misfortune of others.
I enjoyed this concept and it sets up for a lot of new possibilities and franchise opportunities. Of course there was still one loose end to tie up. Zoey. She survived the poison room and manage to take out some very underprepared guards to make her way to the ‘End Room’. A small twist reveals that the game is designed to have no survivors and as the creepy Facility guys tries to strangle Ben, Zoey returns to save the day. Bruised and beaten Zoey and Ben emerge from the facility, greeted by sunlight and freedom, and walk off into the sunset together as the credits begin to roll and I left the cinema satisfied and curious.
Is what I wish I could say.
That moment would have been the perfect ending! But no, they had to keep going. Someone please tell me what in the blue balls happened here with this ending?! It felt very tacked on, unnecessary and possible just a plot to ensure they got a higher budget for the next one, “Cause, you know, we need it for plane things.”. When you pick Escape Room apart and try to put it back together is just doesn’t quite make sense…but I guess if you do that with a lot of movies it can be true.
I know it may sound like I’m being very negative on this film but I actually did enjoy it. Maybe the pleasure was in its simplicity, it wasn’t trying to be too clever (until the end that is) and it wasn’t throwing intestines, acid burns and facial mutilation at me while screaming ‘You like this don’t you sicko!!’ and I thank it for that. However, if there isn’t gore then there has to be tension and the levels just never seemed to get past 5 on the dial. Escape Room is light, interesting and full of beautiful set design and I think this is a good ‘first movie’ to what are clearly some upcoming sequels. My advice? Tighten up the script, turn the tension up to 11 and plan all the way to end before you start filming this next one. We could have a team meeting about it, maybe we’ll skip the team building exercises this time though and just go for a pint. Sound like a plan?