REVIEW: ‘Escape Room’ is poorly structured

You’ve probably seen “Escape Room” before. Maybe not the actual movie, but a lot of the elements included should be familiar to anyone who’s watched their share of thrillers.

Following a group of six strangers, “Escape Room” has a premise based on the live action mystery game that’s been growing in popularity in recent years. The group includes a truck driver named Mike (Tyler Labine), a grocery store employee, Ben (Logan Miller), an escape room enthusiast, Danny (Nik Dodani), a military veteran, Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), a wealthy trader, Jason (Jay Ellis) and a college student, Zoey (Taylor Russell).

Following a brief introduction, the group is thrust into danger when the waiting room for the game turns out to be the first area they need to escape. And it’s not easy, as the rooms are loaded with deadly traps, and they soon learn there’s more to the escape room than they expected.

“Escape Room” is one of those flicks where the concept could work, but there was a let down in execution. First and foremost, it should be acknowledged that the story is really nothing new, a group of strangers in a dangerous location having to survive, often dying off one-by-one. One comparison coming to mind throughout the film was the “Saw” franchise, specifically some of the later movies in the series.

With all that said, it’s not as if “Escape Room” had to reinvent the wheel. However, the movie’s relatively by-the-books survival-horror story is undercut by a rather serious tone and its focus on individuals dealing with grief. The movie wants to have these more heavy moments, yet this is all let down by a story just going through the motions. It doesn’t set itself apart like, say, last year’s “Hereditary” and “A Quiet Place.”

It also doesn’t help that the film completely goes off the rails in the third act when the characters learn what’s really going on. One figures the reveal of who’s behind this enormous faux-escape room death trap game would be somewhat silly, but yikes, they went too over-the-top here. It almost negates any goodwill built by the picture.

Another detriment to “Escape Room” were the cliche caricatures. Remember how the movie “The Cabin in the Woods” clearly called out the different types of stereotypical characters in horror films? Those are the types of characters here. The worst example is Dodani, who’s character is written to be so “nerdy” that he becomes insufferable.

Now in all fairness, some of the cast are deserving of credit. Taylor Russell and Deborah Ann Woll are pretty good here, and really do the most with the material they’re given.

Many of the rooms the main characters had to escape from were also fairly well designed and the associated traps feature some cleverness to them. The moments of peril are also mostly well made and can provide thrills. One standout is a sequence taking place in a bar where all the furniture is on the ceiling.

“Escape Room” suffers from its narrative execution and its characters, but it doesn’t sink to the depths of some other movies in the genre. 2 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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