Escape Room and all the images you see in this review are owned by Sony Pictures Releasing
Directed by Adam Robitel
Oh boy! Is it January already!? We all know that this is the BEST month for movies, am I right!? Okay, so the conventional wisdom has been that movies released in January are in a sort of deadzone where there’s next to no chance for an awards worthy movie to get recognition (especially when we’re still talking about awards for movies last year) and it’s far too early to start releasing the blockbusters since the box office is still densely packed with what came out at the tail end of last year. Whatever is coming out right now didn’t is usually doing so because there wasn’t much hope that a more valuable timeslot would have amount to much, but then that’s not necessarily the same as a movie being BAD; just not particularly marketable. After all, Proud Mary was pretty good and came out in January! Okay, so did The Commuter, but the point is that it can go either way! Will this be the rare exception of not just a good movie in January but a good HORROR movie in January!? Let’s find out!!
Six people, Zoey, Ben, Amanda, Mike, Jason, and Danny (Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, and Nik Dodani) are given invitations for this super awesome Escape Room with the added incentive that if they manage to solve it they’ll get a ten grand prize! Well that sounds so good that you CAN’T pass it up, right!? Sure enough it turns out to be an elaborate trap where they have to solve the riddle of each room or die horrible deaths. Well that sounds like a poor way to spend your weekend (I’d certainly give this Escape Room Company a bad review on Yelp!) and it’s not like they have any idea why this is happening in the first place which is admittedly sort of a moot point if they can’t manage to find a way out before it’s too late. Can these six strangers work together in order to solve each room’s puzzle and make it to the very end of the game? What is it that connects these people together, and what does the Escape Room Company expect to get out of this in the first place? Who the heck is in charge here, anyway!?
Sigh… you know, I don’t ALWAYS want to hate movies! Sometimes a movie will clearly be trying its darnedest to make something vaguely watchable, and it’s not always PLEASANT to knock it down a peg for failing to accomplish even that much! I’m sorry to say it, as I know SO many of you were obviously looking forward to it, but despite this movie’s best efforts it’s just not very good. MAYBE this is one of those scenarios where a sequel (one that they SHAMELESSLY bait at the end here) can fix everything that went wrong here and become the movie it’s so desperate to be, and in that sense I’m doing a public service here! It’s for your own good, movie! How else are you gonna learn if I don’t flaunt your failures in front of everybody!?
What I feel is the best way to approach this review is to discuss what problems the movie tries to fix that often show up in films like these and then how the movie fails to accomplish those goals; so basically I’ll be damning this with faint praise until I run out of things to complain about! First and foremost, characters in horror movies are almost always universally bland and uninteresting which means that it’s hard to care about them or feel any sort of tension whenever bad things start to happen. To this movie’s credit, it spends a good fifteen to twenty minutes simply getting to know these characters and the initial room provides a great place for them to bounce off of each other and create dynamics before the ridiculous traps start to kick in. It’s actually quite effective here as everyone has distinguishable traits that could both help the group in certain circumstances but also hold them back in others. So why does it not work here? Well for all the work the movie puts into setting up these characters as believable people, the script goes to ABSURD lengths to make them the biggest fools imaginable in order to either move the plot along to artificially ratchet up the drama. Danny in particular is utter inexplicable here as he can seem smart and helpful one moment but then utterly oblivious the next. He’s the ONE GUY who throughout the entire time he’s on screen is telling everyone to relax and that it’s ALL JUST A GAME; an attitude that I don’t think anyone could possibly relate to given the circumstances they found themselves in. It’s ESPECIALLY galling because he’s the one character who’s been to dozens of escape rooms before, so he should KNOW the difference between an ACTUAL escape room and one that’s a giant death trap! It’s not just him either, there’s a scene where a character dies in something I’d estimate to be an accident (I THINK it might have been intentional from the GAME MASTER or whatever, but I wasn’t sure) and yet for no reason the rest of the crew just turns on one guy; saying that he did it and that he’s in on this whole scheme. How about one guy who out of nowhere can lower his heart rate to ridiculously low levels or someone who we’ve been told is a sheepish wallflower turning into a total butt kicking action hero out of nowhere? Despite Because of how much the movie tried to set these characters up with their own backstories that we get pretty well integrated flashes of throughout the movie, it makes it all the more noticeable that the setup itself doesn’t require any of that and just needs these characters to be whatever the script needs them to be in any given scene.
The next problem this movie tries to overcome is just how much of a gimmick it is and how often movies around such pop culturally relevant subject matter are either poorly made or become immediately dated. Heck, even the GOOD Ouija movie didn’t know what to do with the premise and just worked around it to tell an entirely different story! Does this movie succeed at being anything other than a Saw knock off? Well once again, the answer is close but no cigar. It’s distinguishable from Saw in that this movie is less about causing people suffering in order to “earn” their lives and more about… well solving esoteric puzzles. This means that the scenes have something closer to an adventure feel to them with a very real threat of danger but not so much one of overwhelming dread and suffering. I do like that aspect and I do like a few of the rooms that are in here, but it’s hard to get past the silliness of the premise to feel anything for them; not to mention how ridiculously inconsistent the puzzles are. Okay, in one room they have the most obvious password puzzle imaginable, but then the next area has like seven different parts to it and some sort of artificial barrier of science magic, and then for whatever reason they find a key for a door but when the put it in the keyhole it unlocks a door on the other side of the room. Sure, I’ve never been to an escape room before so I have no idea how ridiculously involved some of those puzzles can be, but I honestly had trouble following the through line for a lot of them; particularly that one puzzle having to do with the heart rate. I honestly couldn’t tell you how they figured out THAT clue; nor why anyone would have needed to go to such ridiculous lengths for what is ultimately a very simple scheme.
And here we get to the BIG problem; the one that made me leave this movie bitterly disappointed instead of lethargically ho-hum. How can we sell such a ridiculous premise and what can we do with the BAD GUYSTM to make them at least feel somewhat real instead of lazily vague? This is where we’re gonna go into straight up spoilers, but I’ll give you one right now and say that this movie did not succeed in sticking the landing of this movie the way they desperately tried to. At this point, you should skip to the end if you don’t want to know what happens.
We good? Okay!
So basically we’ve got ourselves another Unfriended: Dark Web situation on our hands only on a much larger scale. Instead of just a group of hacker jerks with nothing better to do, this is apparently a multibillion dollar “corporation” with big name clients who will pay them to throw people in a maze and bet on who comes out alive. Now the good part about this is that there are a few actual faces to this so we get to see a few people who work for this “company” (DID THEY FILE ARTICLES OF INCORPORATION!? DO THEY HAVE A FEDERAL TAX ID FOR THEIR MURDER STREAMING SERVICE!?), but they miss the most important part about giving your bad guy a face. You can’t just SAY that they’re human without putting that limitation within the story itself. We never really get the full scope and scale of this operation, but considering the resources on hand they have to have a serious amount of money as well as some serious manpower, and there’s simply no way of selling it the way they try to in this movie. I mean I could just list all the ridiculous things this movie expects us to buy, but to put it simply it is an idea too big to work. They had to acquire this building, they had to fill it with the most unbelievably elaborate traps imaginable, they had to POWER the darn thing with electricity, they had to have some serious server power in order to run that many cameras and stream them in real time, and on top of that they can disappear without a trace. As ridiculous as the Saw movies were, they at least gave us a recap at the end of the movie to somewhat explain how Jigsaw and his crew managed to pull this off. Even if the bad guys in Ouija: Origin of Evil were ill defined ghosts with unclear motivations, the fact that they HAD to play along with Doris’s mother showed that there was actual motivation behind their actions. Despite us seeing a few people behind the scenes of EVIL CORP, it never once sells us on either their ability to get away with any of this or any of their motivations to go along with it. I’ve heard the movie being compared to Cube a few times, and frankly they should have just gone with that cop out. The film never explains what’s going on and why any of these people are trapped in that place, but it still manages to work as it sets the right kind of mysterious mood for the rest of the movie. Not only that, we SAW what a bad idea it was to start explaining that stuff in Cube Zero which is just an awful mess of a movie, but I can’t say that the corporation in THIS film is any more believable than Michael Riley and his ludicrous bionic eye. I guess it’s more of a personal bias with me, but I just can’t get too invested in a story where there’s no push and pull between the protagonists and antagonists. If the former is just the latter’s play things that can be disposed of at any point (which is absolutely the case here), then why even bother watching it?
It looks like the January Anti-Horror Streak has yet to be broken even if this is one of the better efforts to come from this woeful month. There’s a decent movie in here to be sure, but there’s not enough room for the good elements to shine when there is so much working against it. Honestly I have no idea why they had to make this thing as complicated as it was because none of it end up being the better parts of the movie, and even if some of the rooms have a bit of creativity to them and can work as isolated set pieces, there’s just nothing to hold it all together as it collapses under the weight of its own poorly constructed screenplay. I certainly wouldn’t recommend paying to go see this. Heck, you’re STILL better off just rewatching Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse for like the third week in a row! Until someone starts to put out better movies, there’s not much reason to beat around the bush about it!