Escape Room (***) is an antidote for Oscar season

Escape Room – 2018

Director Adam Robitel
Screenplay Bragi F. Schut, Maria Melnik
Starring Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, Nik Dodani

This season seems especially stagnant for new films, as Oscar contenders are pushed out with some very average blockbuster material. When a movie feels like an obligation, one feels much more reluctant to reserve a space in the theater. Escape Room is the opposite of the kind of film one feels destined to see. It’s more the type of movie one sees because it asks for so little of its audience.

Taking advantage of a trend for office parties all over the continent, the idea of the recreational escape room is to have people work as a team to scour through clues in their environment. These clues lead to other clues, which eventually leads the whole team out.

Escape Room takes 6 strangers, invites them to a fancy looking office, and then locks them in what seems to be the waiting room. This time, the strangers are competitors for an advertised $10k prize. They still have to work together, but not every player makes it to the next stage. Instead of being a harmless bit of fun for everyone, the players who don’t win lose way more than the money.

The players are given backstories, concentrating on three in particular which we know will be among the last players. The beginning of the film plays a trick which is almost immediately undone, but that’s okay. The characters, even some of the disposable ones, are relatively appealing. Given the fact that some of the actors playing their roles have some interesting resumes, it makes us feel at least a little more committed in their characters’ well being.

The rooms vary in terms of intensity, weirdness and scenery. Some, like the upside down bar, hold your interest more. The tension is such that we almost forget ourselves for a bit.

The last act sputters as the film searches for some reason for the events that occur. Russell’s troubled genius Zoey is an intriguing character who makes for an interesting heroine. Somehow the filmmakers get someone equally interesting from Miller’s obvious loser, Ben.

The film tries to make its 10 Little Indians premise interesting by dropping bits of back story throughout. The success depends on if they can wedge in personality as well. The aforementioned Russell and Miller, along with Woll and Labine are the most involving, even if one of them goes out like a chump.

This film is good, if you are not expecting genius. How they solve each room is clear and interesting for some of the rooms. For other rooms, it just feels like they push through and say a few big words.

Escape Room is enjoyable, forgettable and occasionally inspired. It’s not a lot, but it’s better than more movies about hugging, learning and devious royalty.

(*** out of *****)

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