Saturday, September 5, 2020

Random Movie: Escape Room (2019)

Photo: Sony/Columbia Pictures

To be honest, I had chosen this movie primarily because it is a recent film beginning with an 'E' that is easily accessible and I fully expected to hate it. I knew nothing of Escape Room other than what my almost 14-year-old has told me (she saw it twice in theaters) and the Saw-lite vibes I got from the trailers that I had seen. But shockingly, if not for trying to review random movies over the next two months, I'd probably have never gotten around to this one. But, as it turns out, I would have been missing out.

Even though the last few years have proven that PG-13 rated horror movies can be good, many end up tame enough to end up on standard cable with minimal tweaks. Escape Room also fits that description. But unlike the Saw films that clearly inspire it, this film does well enough without the graphic scenes of body trauma or torture, and still manages to be pretty entertaining. It was only after I started watching it that I saw this movie was directed by Adam Robitel, who did another non-gory, but still quite satisfying, horror film I rather enjoyed, The Taking of Deborah Logan

While the film tips its hand a bit at the beginning as it shows us more details about three of the eventual six main characters, Robitel and writers Bragi E. Shut and Maria Melnik make up for it as the rest of the group is introduced early on in the film. While I've never been to an escape room, I trust that getting a mysterious puzzle box with an invitation inside is not the norm. But the film sets up a large cash reward for beating the game as well as the characters' motivations for achieving it so we are mostly left in the dark who will be the victor through these challenges.

I say mostly because, as seems to be more common than not for horror movies recently, this film begins with a flash forward of an important scene from the end of the film. Logistically, I understand that theater audiences (especially younger ones) may be wanting, or even conditioned, to expect a big sequence or death at the start of the film to set the tone. Even though it doesn't really take that long to get into the 'Escape Room' proper portion of the film, it seems the producers or whomever did not trust the audience to hold on for a whole twenty minutes or so before walking out in protest of boredom. 

Aside from that issue, I was thoroughly entertained throughout the film, much more than I expected to be as I explained up top. As there are only six characters to worry about, all are given enough backstory and drive to make them both notable and worth caring about. We soon find out (in true Saw-like movie fashion) that these particular people were chosen for a reason to compete against each other in this game. But unlike probably half of the participants in Jigsaw's games, these characters seem to be on the up-and-up and sympathetic, which makes their eventual demise more impactful. 

As I have never been to an escape room (other people and outside events are generally incompatible with my existence), I have no clue how these things work other than in pop culture. That the challenges are both physically and mentally based seems to track, without, you know, the killing of people who do not complete the level. All of the rooms in the film are interesting and different enough that while I was as much in the dark as most of the characters as to how to escape, I was still completely engaged in the film and hoping these folks find their way out of an upside-down room or an indoor convection oven.

One might expect that as the movie progresses, the six main characters are whittled down in the various escape rooms that have some personal elements that might through them off guard. And it probably wouldn't surprise you either that there is an evil force at work behind these escape rooms (spoiler: It's rich people.) But after the movie has come to a complete end, it surprisingly keeps going and seems to try to segue from the finale of this film into the opening act of the presumed sequel. This film only runs at about 100 minutes so the extra padding isn't a dealbreaker but it is confusing at least. Especially since there is a forthcoming sequel of some sorts.

All in all, I admit I did not expect good things out of Escape Room. And while the designation of Saw-for-babies isn't exactly inaccurate, it is a pretty good movie nonetheless. 

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