Later tonight, Adam Robitel’s Escape Room will be arriving in theaters, and to mark the occasion, Daily Dead recently caught up with the director to talk about his latest genre offering. A twisty little experiment in psychological horror that follows a group of participants trapped inside an Escape Room experience where their lives are constantly hanging in the balance, Escape Room was written by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik, and stars Deborah Ann Woll, Taylor Russell, Tyler Labine, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis, and Nik Dodani.
Yesterday, we brought you the first part of our interview with Robitel, and he discussed coming aboard the project, the film’s intricate production design, and more. For this second interview installment, the director chatted about the cast of Escape Room, sequel potential, and how a modern horror classic inspired one key element utilized in the film.
Everyone in the cast is really great—can you talk about bringing this group of actors together for Escape Room?
Adam Robitel: From the top line down, finding Zoey was probably our biggest challenge, because we wanted somebody who was really vulnerable, but also had this inner strength, and then also had this cerebral quality, too. Also, she's engineered to sort of be a wallflower, so you don't really pay attention to her—that's on purpose. So, Taylor Russell came in and just blew me away. Her audition was just unbelievably powerful and present, and afterwards, she gave me a big hug.
And then Deborah Ann Woll came in and just crushed it, and she's got such a heroic presence, too. By the way, she had the same kind of quality on set because everybody, all of the department heads, really loved her. She's so professional. Then, there was Jay Ellis, who had such a magnetism and he brought something really special to his character. Logan was phenomenal as Ben as well. His character is in this really low point in his life when we meet him, and because he had this accident in his past, he hates himself. He's always drinking, and he can't make a friend.
One of the things that we were always are concerned about with these characters was likability. Are they likable? There were some lines with Ben that were these snarky, kind of dickish lines that we loved that we frankly de-neutered a little bit because of that concern. When I’m looking at characters, I always ask: are they likable or are they relatable? Because you can be relatable without being likable necessarily. It gives the character some room to grow, right? And a huge part to this movie was how do different people react to trauma?
Taylor's character, Zoey, she retreated. She withdrew from stuff and she became very meek and fearful. Then Tyler comes in, and he's just so funny, and he has that baby face. Everything he says is hilarious. But surprisingly also, he’s a really good dramatic actor, too. Nik Dodani, who is a stand-up comic and is on Murphy Brown now, he rounded out the cast as our resident escape room expert. He was phenomenal as well. So, yeah, we had a great, great cast and day one of filming, we were doing the lobby scene. We just threw them right in.
I'm not going to get too specific because I don't want to ruin things, but there are clearly opportunities to explore this concept more, and I'm curious as to whether or not it is something you've thought about at this point? Honestly, I can see this being the thing that comes back every January and we get to see what new escape rooms are out there.
Adam Robitel: Well, I obviously hope you're right and thank you for that. I mean, crowds are fickle and fans are tough. We have a lot of ideas. Getting back to the setup for a second, I always felt like it was more important to tease the world and create the mystery. If we had explained everything away, I think ultimately it just wouldn't be that interesting. I won't get into spoilers, but in the end we wanted some closure, but we also wanted to end the movie just like how we began it, with this crazy rollercoaster type of experience.
But to answer your question, we would love to do one. We're not so arrogant as to think that this is a sure thing, and I think ultimately the audience will decide what will happen. Unfortunately, moviemaking is still a business, and so it would have to make financial sense to make another one. I do think there are innumerable storylines and there are so many styles of escape rooms out there, that we could definitely keep coming up with cool ideas.
Before we go, I wanted to ask one last thing. Being a horror nerd, the thing that really stuck out to me was how the invitation boxes feel like a modern version of the Lament Configuration. The style itself is so uniquely its own, obviously, but I thought it was nifty that in some way, these boxes promised their keepers an experience on a completely different level. But this time, it’s an escape room and not a trip to hell.
Adam Robitel: Well, I do love Hellraiser, but initially the design was based off these Japanese puzzle boxes, which do exist. That was some of the inspiration. And as we were designing it, we knew we needed to come up with something cool and iconic. But the box is certainly an homage to Hellraiser, for sure. Beyond that, though, I think it reflects the theme of these people being locked inside of a space, a physical space, where these people are being imprisoned in their own pain. So, the boxes just seemed like a fun kind of way to extend the invitation and tap into those themes with this literal box. I did ask about having Pinhead pop out at the end, but everyone said "no" (laughs).
Maybe you can do that in the sequel, as a crossover [laughs].
Adam Robitel: Yes, exactly [laughs].
In case you missed it, check here to read Daily Dead's previous coverage of Escape Room, including Heather's review of the movie and part 1 of her interview with Adam Robitel.