VOD film review: Escape Room (2019)
Ivan Radford | On 30, Oct 2021
Director: Adam Robitel
Cast: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Nik Dodani, Jay Ellis
Where to watch Escape Room online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
A group of people find themselves trapped in a room, with no way out but to solve a fiendish puzzle. If that sounds familiar, that’s either because you’ve done an escape room in real life yourself, or because you’ve seen any of the umpteen Saw-inspired films made in the past 15 years. Escape Room is a nifty, entertaining riff on both, simultaneously tapping into the popularity of the locked-room game format and bringing some much-needed novelty and excitement to a tired sub-genre of horror.
The film begins with a group of youngsters who are invited to take part in an escape room: smart student Zoey (Taylor Russell), grocery store worker Ben (Logan Miller) who’s frustrated by his lack of prospects, stockbroker Jason (Jay Ellis) with a taste for the high life, former miner Mike (Tyler Labine), military vet Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll) and geeky escape room enthusiast Danny (Nik Dodani). If they can make it out of the escape room, they win a cool $10,000. But what soon becomes clear in the booby-trapped waiting room is that they have no choice but to participate – or the room will kill them.
It’s a fiendishly simple premise, and, like Cube and The Maze Runner before it, Robitel knows that it’s most effective if it stays that simple throughout. And so, after minimal set-up, the film throws us right into the rooms along with the characters, and doesn’t let the pace up for the remainder of its refreshingly short 90 minutes. From heat panels to ice cold mountain cabins, the range of set-ups is surprisingly diverse, and, although there’s often only one or two puzzles per room, there’s a nice mix of symbols, numbers and objects for the characters to solve – often by co-ordinating and working as a team.
Visually, the array of stunts and perilous set design is genuinely impressive, with one upside down pool table set piece particularly nail-biting. But while there’s glossy fun to be had, there’s also a delicate balancing act at play: the script manages to make each challenge logical enough for viewers to solve easily, so as not to lose momentum, but without letting them get there ahead of the characters, so the tension doesn’t bubble away. And, tying each spectacle together, is an underlying connection between the characters and the room themes that means the action actually builds characters throughout – even as people inevitably start to get bumped off.
What makes all of this high-concept silliness is not just the straight-faced commitment of the cast (with Daredevil’s Deborah Ann Woll, Logan Miller’s Ben and Taylor Russell’s Zoey the standout members of the ensemble), but the clever decision to keep things at a 15-certificate level: this is closer to The Maze Runner than Saw in its labyrinth of tricks, and that avoidance of nastiness for the sake of it means that Escape Room doesn’t descend into unpleasantness but keeps its efficient, calculated entertainment finely calibrated. The only downside is that it might make some people think twice about doing an escape room again.
Escape Room (2019) is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.