As someone who has spent a good amount of time in various escape rooms over the last few years (and I’ve probably lost more than I’ve won), Adam Robitel’s Escape Room was—as the kids these days are saying—completely my jam. From the high-energy script to the excellent ensemble assembled onscreen to the wondrously intricate production design and breathtaking set pieces, Escape Room delivered everything I was hoping for and more, making it the perfect way to kick off a brand new year of horror.
The setup for Escape Room is pretty much what you’d expect if you’ve seen just one trailer: six strangers find themselves in the mix of a mysterious escape room scenario, all driven by different reasons for accepting the challenge. But the group quickly realizes this contest of will and wit has far grander stakes than they could have ever imagined, and they find themselves fighting to survive all of the twists and turns that await them as they continue to test their mettle against the dangerous game that is afoot.
There are horror movies that are devised in such a manner that they aim to crawl under your skin or prey upon your psyche, but for Escape Room, director Robitel’s main goal is to thrill and entertain audiences, which he delivers upon time and time again throughout the course of the film’s 100-minute running time. Escape Room is definitely the antithesis of subversive genre fare, and that’s great, because it wouldn’t work nearly as well if it had gone that route. Robitel keeps the action well-paced, gives us time to get to know (and fall in love with) the film’s characters, and also delivers a ton of surprises along the way, and I just had a total and complete blast with it the entire time.
As someone who loves a good mystery and great production design (as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details”), Escape Room for me was the equivalent of feasting upon cinematic candy, as I found myself completely immersed in every single environment contained within the titular locale, playing alongside the film’s characters (and if you’ve ever done an escape room in real life, I think you know exactly what I mean—it’s that phenomenon where you pore over every single thing in any given mystery, because it HAS to mean something, right?). Each room has a completely different design and feel to it—the initial lobby which transforms into the world’s largest Easy-Bake Oven, a remote cabin that somehow happens to be located in a frigid forest landscape, an old billiards room that is completely inverted (which was THE BEST), an old hospital setup, or even a mind-bending room that’s meant to take participants on a hallucinatory trip through hell. It all just works so well in Escape Room and I must tip my hat to both production designer Edward Thomas and art director Mark Walker, because their contributions to Escape Room are so essential to the film’s story and they both really rose to the occasion here. Without their efforts, the film never would have worked as well as it does.
I also must commend Escape Room writers Bragi Schut and Maria Melnik (who was brought in to “spice things up” with the characters and some of the key story elements) for not only diving full on into what makes escape rooms so much fun and so addictive for many folks, but also giving the characters in the film a real purpose that serves the overall thematic conceit incredibly well to boot. For the cast, Robitel brought together an excellent array of talented performers, including some personal favorites of mine like Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, and Logan Miller (friendly reminder that Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse RULES) as well as some folks that I hadn’t seen before but look forward to seeing where their careers go from here: Jay Ellis, Nik Dodani, and Taylor Russell (who nearly steals the show in Escape Room). It’s so rare these days when you watch an ensemble piece and you find yourself invested in every one of the characters, but I definitely got that from my experience with Escape Room.
I may very well end up in the minority on this one, but that is perfectly fine with me because I had a total blast with Escape Room and it’s a movie I can’t wait to go see again this weekend in theaters (it’s such a fun crowd flick!). I’ve seen some folks say they get some Saw vibes from the film based on the initial marketing, but I found it more akin to the low-key love child of Cube and The Game. Robitel demonstrates a continued growth as a filmmaker here, and I am hoping there’s more Escape Room fun awaiting us in the future, because the possibilities with this type of setup are practically endless, and I’m so ready for more strategy-based shenanigans.
Movie Score: 4/5