Taking a growing trend and subjecting it to the horror treatment isn’t a new move. The idea of what would happen if an enjoyable game was used to subject you to unknown terrors, testing your instincts and wits has been done before in many different films, most recently in 2017’s identically titled Escape Room. However this time around director Adam Robitel has shot for fun instead of fear and as light horror the film shines and proves a pretty enjoyable romp that embraces and works around some well versed horror tropes.
Telling the story of six disparate people who are invited to take part in a brand new escape room. When the game starts they begin to realise that not only do they have more in common than they might think but they also are in a brutal game that will kill them if they don’t solve all the puzzles presented to them. With increasingly elaborate rooms to pass through and clues designed to pit player against player it is any guess who will actually manage to escape.
The joys and detriments of Robitel’s film lies in its simplicity. Entertaining the whole way through, this is a tense thrill ride that never lets up from start to finish. By never giving the films ‘contestants’ have a moment to breathe and think, Robitel keeps you hurtling towards the finish line while never letting up on the mystery being crafted around this twisted game. While the questions around why this game is taking place carry you through the conclusion to them let the film down. While to some it may seem irrelevant, this would be origin story to a larger series doesn’t seem to respect its audience enough to give them a straight answer.
However the game itself is carefully thought out with a remarkable attention to detail in each and every room. The set design is lavish but also cleverly developed with each room getting progressively smaller over the course of the film as time starts to run out while never expressly pushing these characters to state it. The story itself is equally well crafted, at least in its plot, with each room revealing little snippets of personality to each of our subjects. The issue here however is what they choose to say about people and while you want to care about each of these people equally, Robitel, as well as writers Maria Melnik and Bragi F Schut never spend the time building them up equally.
If anything, Escape Room only thinks about getting from point A to point B. The adventure here is the journey and while it is all well and good enjoying this for what it presents, a campy yet well presented horror film, it never strives to be anything more. It deals in the technical aspects of storytelling, not the art of it. Because of this, nothing in Escape Room is real, not how the characters interact with each other or their eventually revealed histories. Everything here is so carefully manipulated, much like the game itself that anything that takes place feels like a film-makers trick, not a legitimate moment.
When the film does dive into its characters minds for the few moments it gives them it tries to link them instead of making them stand on their own two feet. Robitel doesn’t trust in his own characters enough to make them unique, instead building them as one team, a symbiotic unit like a colony of ants, not people with human emotions and fears, be them irrational or rational. It’s not to say that spending time with these poor souls is a chore, it is ultimately quite captivating, it just doesn’t aim as high as it should.
The film gets so wrapped up in how it looks and where it is heading that it forgets to take a second and look around to see what isn’t quite working. What you receive because of it is a film that is on the surface, exactly what you expected but underneath it is empty of the things that make you wonder long after the horror ends. While I expect many will enjoy this in the moment, i can’t imagine many will be thinking about it when leaving the cinema. In fact, you’d be forgiven for forgetting it as soon as you hit the lights.