By: Hawk Ripjaw (Four Beers) –
Escape Room opens with a guy in a room, talking out loud in case the audience is too stupid to recognize the visual clues of a number-based puzzle while a wall slowly moves towards him to crush him. We then flash back to some weeks before this occurred.
The first protagonist we meet is Zoey (Taylor Russell), a withdrawn genius enamored with the idea of the scientific principle that particles behave differently when you’re not watching them, or something. Next we have Ben (Logan Miller), a down-on-his-luck young alcoholic who can’t seem to catch a break. Ben was the guy in the prologue so you know right away that he’s safe until that scene. Jason (Jay Ellis) is a successful finance guy who is super rich and a major asshole. Each of them receives a black puzzle box and, upon solving it, is invited to partake in an escape room with a grand prize of ten grand. When they get there, they meet the other three contestants: a traumatized veteran named Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), a oversharing trucker named Mike (Tyler Labine), and an annoying gamer named Danny (Nik Dodani), who loves escape rooms and oh boy you can’t wait for this fucker to get killed off as soon as possible.
A short while into the first room, they realize that while they stand to win ten thousand dollars, they also stand to DIE, because this is one of those escape rooms that kills you if you don’t solve the puzzle. With no choice but to press on, the group must work together to complete the rooms and find out who is doing this to them.
Escape Room’s production design is great. Most of these sorts of claustrophobic Saw-style movies have a generally grimy sameness to most of their sets, blending together in cool-color-tinted concrete basements. Escape Room features unique flavor for every room. The movie just generally looks pretty good, and the production design stands out.
The cinematography and design of the Bar Room is, in particular, really fun: the elaborately decorated room, modeled after those bars that rock bottom alcoholics go to in movies, is built upside down, where the floor is the ceiling and vice versa. Camera angle and position is thoughtfully executed in this scene, with a lot of fun camera flips and turns to mess with which way is up. During all of this, sections of the floor begin falling away as Petula Clark’s “Downtown” plays on repeat. It’s an entertaining scene and by far the most visually interesting one in the movie.
It’s also rarely boring; while this isn’t an especially good movie, it’s often pretty fun. It’s quick, goes down easy, and doesn’t leave a bad taste. It’s also easy to pick apart and gets dumber the more you think about it, so let’s go!
The movie’s script seems stuck a couple of drafts behind where it should be. Each of the characters have distinct personalities and differences from each other, but none of them go in particularly interesting directions or have satisfying arcs. The script insists that there are reasons these people are here, just as, for seven years straight, the Saw franchise conditioned audiences to expect a massive pseudo-philosophical reveal that would make them ponder their own life choices (like continuing to buy tickets to a Saw movie). It comes up empty with these reasons, removing the burden of character growth from the characters and dropping all of its eggs into a disappointing ending reveal.
In terms of this reveal, there are a handful of things mentioned earlier on in the movie, such as how each room has specific details involving traumatic events from the characters’ lives years prior, that are essentially ignored once things are being wrapped up. This is frustrating because the implications of these details and one’s best guess to why it’s happening are much more sinister and exciting than what the finale eventually delivers.
The puzzles are a mix of engaging, opaque, and overly easy. Some of them are a lot of fun to try to figure out where they’re headed, some don’t make much sense until they have to in the context of the movie, and others can be solved way before the characters get it. The latter results in situations where you’ve already figured out the room’s answer and as a result get to watch the characters dick around for another five minutes with guesses that are obviously wrong just for the purpose of making the scene more tense. When the movie pulls off a successful Venn diagram of engaging puzzles and charming tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about itself, it’s good fun, but those things don’t converge often enough.
The finale is a hard crash and burn. An epic faceplant. A trip off the edge of an office building. Of all the ways this could have ended, of any of the handful of answers to what is actually going on, Escape Room goes with the most obvious and uninspired.
The twist is that rich people pay this company a ton of money to put poor souls through these escape rooms so they can watch them die. Because we live in a society that is increasingly more bloodthirsty! Take a look in the mirror, society!
I’m torn on this ending. It is stupid in both good and bad ways. It’s a weird mix of disappointingly flaccid and goofily overblown, clearly written by someone who was convinced they had a real banger of a twist so they made it as dramatic as possible. The social commentary angle stapled to its forehead is somehow vaguely insulting given the movie’s blandly tame PG-13 rating.
It also gets… so much worse. If the movie just ended with that twist, it would be forgivable, but it keeps going with a second ending. It has a whiff of studio interference and reshoots that are clearly trying to force a sequel setup, with an epilogue that is so bizarre and overblown that I kind of have to see where it goes next.
Escape Room is somehow difficult to hate; it has this sort of low-key engagement factor that holds your attention in one hand to distract you from the bullshit it’s doing in the other. When the puzzles aren’t misfiring, the movie gets surprisingly watchable. It’s pretty dumb, but competently made, and mostly knows not to let itself get too out of control with the wackiness (but maybe it should have gone there). It certainly doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, as the weaknesses in the actual script and characters become more pronounced the longer you think about them. But it could have been so much worse, probably not a great deal better, and may be worth a rental for some lightly watchable background noise.
Escape Room (2019) Movie Review Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever someone says “clue.”
Do a Shot: every time you solve the puzzle before the characters.
Take a Drink: whenever you come up with a solution that’s different/less complicated than what the characters do.
Do a Shot: whenever you correctly predict who will die in a given room.
Photosensitive Epilepsy Warning: there is one sequence in the movie featuring a black-and-white room with a strobe effect that may cause issues if you are photosensitive. It’s not as bad as Incredibles 2, but be prepared.