Blu-ray Review: Escape Room | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, May 28th, 2020  

Escape Room

Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

May 16, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Toss several strangers in a room they can’t escape and see if the walls or the people inside crack first.

It’s a sound premise made relevant by the recent popularity of real-world escape rooms —recreational traps favored by tourists and corporate event planners — where participants search for clues in a themed room, solve riddles and escape before the time runs out.

In the case of this self-describing horror film, the room is not a game, but an actual life-or-death puzzle that might cook you to death, freeze you to death, or drug you to death.

The beauty of a rock-solid premise for a horror film is the scares can practically write themselves, and in many ways that’s the feeling you get from Escape Room, even while it borrows liberally from previous films and never establishes its own unique identity or world in which to play.

It cribs the “game is real” head-trip from The Game, the Rube Goldberg death puzzles from Saw, and the geometric torture chamber of Cube. All three could conceivably owe child support for Escape Room. Even the mysterious puzzle box that the film’s contestants receive as an invitation evoke Hellraiser. And it’s hard not to imagine the technicians from The Cabin in the Woods pulling little levers behind the walls or spinning gears with glee as the floor drops out from under our doomed compatriots.

To its credit, Escape Room doesn’t steal solely from one genre or film. And it has a genial regard for the majority of its characters — a slacker stock boy, an army vet, an ambitious day trader, a brilliant college student, a truck driver and an escape-room enthusiast — who find themselves invited to the Minos Escape Room Facility for a chance to win $10,000.

As they narrowly escape death and progress from one room to the next, typically losing one member of their motley crew each time, the film makes an honest effort at character and backstory, enough that when a character is trapped under ice, the audience roots for survival, rather than punishment. The PG-13 rating also means the deaths are less grisly than many of its genre peers, again inviting less bloodlust from the audience and more cheering on. In that way Escape Room is closer to suspense and action than horror, where deaths are often fully earned by unlikeable or careless victims.

There are genuine thrills and inventive set design, like an upside-down tavern where the participants walk on an untrustworthy ceiling and cling to pool cues.

In the film’s best scenes, Escape Room’s heroes might be the set designers rather than for filmmaking in the same way Ready Player One felt like a bigger accomplishment for copyright attorneys. When it falls short, it’s probably because the audience is imagining more creative traps and rooms than the ones on screen. 

Follow Ed McMenamin on twitter at @EdMcMenamin.


Author rating: 5/10

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