Movie review: Escape Room

A group of strangers bicker as the clock runs out

Escape Room (Úniková hra)
Directed by Adam Robitel
With Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, Nik Dodani

The recent fad for puzzle nights makes the concept behind Escape Room topical, but not necessarily fresh.

The new psychological horror thriller Escape Room delivers heavily on thrills and suspense, but moves so fast from one crisis to another that there is little character development or explanation. There are some hints of a vast conspiracy behind all the goings on, but they are left undeveloped.

There is more than a hint at a sequel, and possibly a lot was held back so it could be revealed in future installments.

The basic premise is that several strangers have received a puzzle box, not unlike a plastic version of the cube seen in 1987’s Hellraiser. The main cast members each manage to twist and turn it enough to get a cryptic invitation to pop out, offering a prize to anyone willing to go to a certain address and a specified time and try to win the game.

The mix of players is fairly good, but they do nothing but argue, which is a bit headache inducing.

Young store clerk Ben (Logan Miller) is the main character, and sort of likable in a laid back way. Clever but shy college student Zoey (Taylor Russell) also elicits sympathy for her earnestness.

Two more players are sort of neutral. Mysterious burn victim Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll) shows visible scars in the early scenes, and remains standoffish. Truck driver Mike (Tyler Labine) just wants the prize money.

The final two are a bit less sympathetic. Stock trader Jason (Jay Ellis) is a narcissist who thinks only of himself. Self-proclaimed escape room expert Danny (Nik Dodani) is just plain annoying.

The game boils down to a series of rooms, some quite large, and each radically different in style.

The game starts after some brief bits of dialogue, and once it does there is barely a break as the characters frantically search for any helpful tools or clues left by the anonymous maker of the game.

Technically, this makes sense as each room has to be solved in a finite period of time. It also keeps the audience from having time to question the logic of what is happening. Before one puzzle can be examined too closely, it is time for the next one.

The set design for each of the puzzles is a plus in the film, though the solutions could be a bit more varied.

To add to the tension, much of the dialog is shouted, even after the quiet characters try to explain to the loud ones that the endless noise they create is a distraction holding the group back.

Horror film fans will recognize elements of Cube and the Saw films, though it has much less blood and gore than its recent counterparts.

There are also resemblances to classic films going back to 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game up through David Fincher’s 1997 film The Game.

Logan Miller and Taylor Russell, who both have experience from TV series and support roles in big films, both give star-worthy performances in this fairly low budget horror effort, and this will likely give their careers a boost. The others don’t really rise above the material.

The 2018 black comedy Game Night had similar themes, with a company that sets up puzzles in people’s homes. That film managed to take time between its various incidents so the audience could catch up and the characters could work on some subplots. Game Night also had its share of flaws, but in the end was more rewarding than Escape Room’s single-track roller coaster ride.

The film does have several edges of the seat moments, but once it ends there are lots of loose threads and truly unexplained parts.

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