Happy New Year, everybody! Well, at least it is a happy new year for a few days until that first Friday… that first Friday when a movie studio dumps whatever film they’re too embarrassed to release at any other time of the year. Oh, yes, it’s the Dump Month of January, something I’ve touched upon in other reviews before. More often than not, these films are the cream of the crop of bottom of the barrel studio trash. Released with the hope that audiences just won’t care to see them, hopefully going through the box office without a blip on the radar. Well, sometimes audiences and critics get lucky and receive something not completely terrible. 

Zoey Davis (Taylor Russell) is a shy and timid college student who’s more interested in reading books than making friends. She, and five strangers, receive mysterious invitations to partake in an Escape Room, receiving $10,000 if they escape. When the contestants arrive for the game, they learn that the escape rooms are a little bit too immersive, putting their lives in actual danger. As the group attempts to escape deadly room after deadly room, they learn things about each other, and the people who put them there in the first place. 

When I first saw the title and poster for Escape Room, I first thought, “Is this some sort of Saw ripoff?” My thoughts were confirmed when I watched the trailer, where it also seemed to have dashes of Cube and The Cabin and the Woods. My feelings were confirmed even further when I actually watched the film, which is basically an amalgamation of all these concepts. There’s nothing new to see here, but although it’s derivative, there was still clearly a lot of thought that went into this. The whole escape room concept is genuinely well executed, each room being differently creative in their environments and how to solve the puzzle. You can tell most of the budget went to the rooms, because the production and set design is fantastic, especially one room inside an upside-down bar room. Everything outside of that looked incredibly cheap, though. 

What differentiates it from Saw is that the people just have to solve puzzles and escape before they burn to death or something else, as opposed to mutilating themselves to survive.  I felt the puzzles were too simple, though, as I was figuring them out way before the characters. The biggest problem is just the setpieces are way too long and lack any sort of suspense. I never really felt anything when a room was about to burst into flames and cook our characters, as there was never a sense of urgency. When the traps would begin going off, it would be interesting at first, but then it would drag on and on. Director Adam Robitel does keep the proceedings stylish, however, with a lot of neat camera tricks and staging to play around with perspective and claustrophobia. 

The concept definitely outstays its welcome during the last room, but screenwriters Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik develop the characters enough. As these kinds of movies require, every character has a mysterious background, with information about them given out consistently to keep things interesting. Aside from Zoey Davis, who I don’t think pulled off the meek, awkward girl very well, every other character was well cast. They all had fun chemistry too, despite some awful dialogue. It was also nice that the characters actually seemed somewhat smart and tried to actually work together, which is a rarity in a movie like this. Unsurprisingly, the stupidest part is the absolutely ludicrous final 15 minutes, which are hilariously hackneyed and convoluted in how they try to explain everything and set up for a sequel. The original Saw closed the door and opened up another to many more questions, this just closed the door. 

For being a PG-13 Saw knockoff released by Sony in January, Escape Room was shockingly not terrible. It’s certainly not very good either, but the characters are fun and it plays around with the escape room idea in enough creative ways to keep it entertaining. There’s some fantastic production design and stylish direction at play here, even if we’ve seen all of this before. Could a not-awful film kicking off the new year be a good omen for a great year of movies to come? One can only hope. 


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