Release Date: January 4, 2019
Director: Adam Robitel
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 100 Minutes
Escape Room opens on a young man falling through the ceiling of an ornate study, frantically struggling to find a way out as the room begins to close in on itself. Battered and bruised, the man looks like he’s been through hell and survived, but it appears his luck has run out as the door fails to open and the room envelopes him.
Inexplicably, it was decided to include this scene, one that would prove to be one of the last moments of the film, as the cold open to this predictable thriller that, despite some clever ideas, can’t help but play it safe, which is ironic in that the film focuses heavily on the victims thinking abstractly to solve complex puzzles.
After spoiling itself, Escape Room introduces three of the six characters who will partake in the game, immediately showing its cards as to who will make it the furthest. Though they all seem like they have nothing in common, seeds are planted early on that all these individuals share a moment in their past that bonds them.
Playing out like a more teen-friendly version of Saw or Cube, the group must work together to find clues and make it out of a series of rooms but doing it quickly enough to avoid the various death traps they contain.
The film begins, intriguing enough, with unique and well crafted puzzle rooms, all containing inventive hooks that keep the viewer invested in the proceedings, eagerly awaiting what fresh hell these people will be forced to endure next. With each room containing small thematic elements that are revealed to be tied to each of the participants, the overarching mystery is also one that nags the viewer as small tidbits are drip fed to us.
One of my first questions about the logistics of this game was what would happen if someone chose not to visit the escape room in the first place? Would they proceed with only five (of the intended six) people? This is a small detail I pondered during this mundane thriller while deciding to overlook the larger logistical anomalies and then after learning more about the specifics of the rooms.
Any minor nitpicks are quickly forgotten, however, as the film quickly derails in the final act, shifting from an implausible-but-fun ride to a completely nonsensical farce with a finale that manages to be neither surprising or exciting.
A film that’s perfectly suited for a January release, Escape Room offers a bit of entertainment, but fumbles the ending, resulting in an experience that’s not nearly as intellectually stimulating or rife with team-building opportunities as a real escape room.