by Toby Woollaston
Many of us have experienced the tension of being locked in a confined space with only an hour to escape. No, I’m not referring to tackling Auckland’s traffic, but rather the current fad of escape rooms that seem to be everywhere at the moment. Such is their ubiquity it’s little wonder Hollywood has mined the craze for some big screen treatment. All the prerequisites are baked right in for a thriller such as this to grab and run … and in this instance fall flat on its face at the final exit.
Escape Room takes its cue from (but falls well short of) cult-classics such as The Game, Cube, and Saw. It’s a lightweight tale of implausible horror that pits six escape room players against the ingenuity of an unknown puppet-master. The stakes are simple, $10,000 or death—although none are privy to the latter upon entry, of course. If only they’d read the fine print.
There are the usual bunch of archetypes who receive an invitation to play; the shy student, the smarmy stockbroker, a shelf-stacking slacker, the long-distance trucker, the Iraqi war vet and an escape room fanatic whose only seeming purpose is to explain the ins-and-outs of escape rooms just in case we aren’t aware of how they work. None are particularly well-sketched characters, but that’s to be expected when life expectancy is this limited.
It quickly becomes apparent that Escape Room is standard check-your-brain-at-the-door fare. No tricky plot points to trip over or clever culture subverting subtexts here. In fact, the only head-scratching moment comes in the film’s finale which offers one of the more illogical, bizarre and poorly rendered WTF endings I think I’ve ever seen. Clearly, Director Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key) hadn’t a clue on how, or when, to end this film.
There are some solid flash-points of tension early on, but as the ever-dwindling team shift from room to room it all becomes rather episodic and dull. For the record, it took me exactly 99 mins to escape the theatre, others might get out sooner.