Characters in thrillers with large ensembles are either very underdeveloped or detestable, but the way the characters are established here is quite solid, especially with the way the film opens. The film elaborately sets up the lives of the contestants of this game and they’re all likable to their own degree. Some of the characters may be assholes and/or annoying but you understand where they’re coming from thanks to the way they’re introduced. What makes these characters stronger is the fact that none of them are stupid. They’re all smart in their own right and their decisions match their personalities. As the story progresses, some of the backstories of the other characters who weren’t introduced in the opening set up are revealed and you resonate more with them. Also, it shines a light on why these specific individuals were chosen to participate in this set of murder traps.
The entire cast delivers solid and impressive performances. Tyler Labine, who appears in a ton of comedic projects, is more grounded here and down-to-earth as Mike. Logan Miller, who I couldn’t stand in “Love, Simon”, plays a tragic character named Ben who you sympathize with. Jay Ellis, who we all know from “Insecure”, plays an asshole named Jason, a character we’ve never seen him portray before. The performer who captivated me the most was central lead Zoey (played by Taylor Russell) who starts off as timid and shy, but when the game starts testing her endurance, she makes the game her own.
For a thriller on a low $10 million budget, the amount of creativity put into each puzzle/set piece is impressive. For this being the first release of the new year, “Escape Room” does its job right (for the most part) by actually putting effort into its production. You can feel your pulse pounding as you witness these six characters attempt to solve this series of killer puzzles. A lot of the credit has to be complimented towards director Adam Robitel and the art direction. Each room has its own cinematic flair and mechanic to kill you if you don’t complete the puzzle in time and watching how each sequence plays out is genuinely thrilling. While the intensity does peak at the upside down room (which looks like some props were borrowed straight off the “Bad Times at the El Royale” set), Robitel keeps the film engaging. It’s honestly the perfect film to display his directing talents, unlike the previous tacked-on franchise films he’s either penned (“Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension”) or helmed (“Insidious: The Last Key”).
The longer the film goes on, the more intense the sequences get as stakes are raised and actual deaths occur. Without incorporating much blood and violence and being a PG-13 film geared toward its target demographic being teenagers, there’s a lot of fun to appreciate --- if you run out of the theater before the epilogue.
I tried to suspend my assumptions that all January movies are bad considering there have been a few diamonds in the rough. 2017 gave us “Split”, 2018 gave us “Paddington 2”, and for a moment, I had an optimistic thought thinking, “This might be the one.” “Escape Room” might be the diamond in the rough of January. There was no reason for it is the first and only release of the new year and it started off strong -- and then the final ten minutes of the film occurred.
As aforementioned, the film peaks at the upside down room set piece and from there on out, the movie tried to be something that everyone knows it’s not: smart. The bigger the mystery became, the more ambitious the screenwriters (Bragi F. Schut & Maria Melnik) got and what it ultimately comes down to is very… how do I put it simply… STUPID.
Some of the dialogue throughout is weak but I was able to forgive it, for I, unironically, was having fun. More so than I ever should be having during a January release. The film was doing what it set out to do: provide suspenseful thrills and I was having a great time being on the edge of my seat. But once the film reached its climax, everything began to fall apart. The action became sloppy and the resolution of the mystery was poorly executed. I gave it the benefit of the doubt because... well, it’s January. The positives of this film outweighed the negative.
But then it got to the epilogue. Throughout the film, I tried my best not to compare some of the creative sequences to sequences from “The Hunger Games” franchise, but I swear this film lazily and shamelessly rips out pages from WEAKER Y/A film adaptations such as “Divergent” in order to set up a sequel and it’s embarrassing. It’s as if someone was performing the javelin throw and as they ran, building momentum and delivering perfect form with their throw, their aim ended up being way off and they accidentally speared the referee as a result.
Just watching the travesty of the final 10 minutes diminished most of the budding integrity of the film. In the words of Jay and Mike of Red Letter Media: FUCK YOU IT'S JANUARY! Oh well, they can’t all be winners.
Another issue I had with the film was the score. During the most intense sequences where a character is in a situation where they near death or a brawl breaks out, techno music is blared and it’s puzzling, for lack of a better word. Because of this, some of the suspenseful momenta gets depleted as the music diminishes some of the intensity of the sequences.
For the most part, “Escape Room” kicks off 2019 into a fun and thrilling start providing creative set pieces and solid direction… even though its finale gets too ambitious for its own good. I'm going to give "Escape Room" a 6 out of 10.