Principal Cast : Evan Williams, Annabelle Stephenson, Elizabeth Hower, Dan J Johnson, John Ierardi, Kelly Delson, Iris Avalee, Darrel Cherney, Cathy Diane Tomlin.
Synopsis: Six friends test their intelligence in a game that takes a dark turn.
One of two 2017 films to be named Escape Room (the other stars Skeet Ulrich, for those playing at home), both of which play up the trendy adult game of locking people in a room with clues to solve and eventually “escape”, this horror-thriller is horrifying for all the wrong reasons and lacks even basic thrills. It’s a reverse Panic Room, if you will, where the people in the room – or in this case rooms – start to panic when they find their “game” is actually a life-and-death battle of wits with an unseen controller watching impassively. The premise is cool I guess, and production design here is actually really nice, but the film is undone by generic scripting and truly excruciating acting from its roster of bit-players.
Christen (Elizabeth Hower) gives her boyfriend Tyler (Evan Williams) the birthday present to remember; she has scored tickets to a popular and mysterious “escape room”, and drags along a group of her initially hesitant friends, Anderson (Dan J Johnson), Conrad (John Ierardi), Tyler’s sister Tabee (Kelly Delson), and the flirtatious Natasha (Annabelle Stephenson). Blindfolded, they are driven to an unknown location and locked in different rooms, each with its own unique puzzle to escape. While the game is initially fun, tensions between the friends and a gradually rising sense of dread – despite Tyler’s insistence that it’s “all part of the game” – bring with it a realisation that their very lives are at stake.
Escape Room is a bit of a mix between Saw, Cube and the zenith of Friends‘ endgame in the event of a zombie apocalypse. There’s a lot of screaming here, a lot of heavy breathing and overacted horror, mixed with some original puzzles and a sense of extreme survival, so if you’re a horror fan looking for cheap thrills and and casual titillation (one of the characters spends their time locked in a cage nude, so woohoo I guess) you’ll find a few things to enjoy. Everyone else will lament the time wasted with this movie, with its dire acting, weirdly ineffective directorial style and hodge-podge narrative.
The story itself is fairly simple, with each of our unlikable characters stuck together in a death-trap series of rooms, each built with “clues” that Tyler in particular manages to solve with inexplicable ease. At no point do we learn that Tyler is some kind of genius, and yet he’s able to piece together the film’s insanely unsolvable riddles with rapid accuracy. Tyler becomes the film’s leading character almost by default, although the script never gives us motivation to access him as anything other than a hysterical douchebag. The rest of the characters are utterly forgettable, devoid of personality other than an immediate access point to a given scene. It’s cruelly stifling, this film, never bothering to build up characters we can care about before offing them in pretty lame ways. The rooms’ escape mechanisms and kill sequences are silly, and the resolution of the film is incoherent and convoluted beyond even this films low-bar of ineptitude.
Escape Room’s chief failing is its performances. Evan Williams, as Tyler, is dreadful in the role, oozing charm to start with but unable to convey the kind of character arc needed to transition to outraged bad boy by the end. Annabelle Stephenson plays Natasha, who has the hots for Tyler even though he’s committed to Christen. Stephenson brings wooden acting to the table here – heck, all the actors do, and never once was any of their dialogue believable. For a group of friends, they all sounded like they were just meeting each other for the first time in this film. Poor Elizabeth Hower is exploited badly by the film’s arc for her, consigned to spend a large portion of it naked and afraid, and the cringe-worthy conclusion to her story baffled me. The film has no ending. It just…. stops, and that’s it. No resolution, no real sense of menace, just…. roll credits.
Escape Room is awful cinema masquerading as cool horror with salacious undertones. It’s horror alright: horrible to watch. With zero tension and inane characters, directed by a guy who obviously watched Saw and Panic Room too many times and couldn’t quite nail the same vibe as either James Wan or David Fincher, Escape Room is a film you should escape from, and quickly.
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