'Escape Room' Review

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If you haven’t heard about escape rooms, clearly you haven’t been to a mall or watched a sitcom over the past few years. This is a popular and “fun” form of entertainment in which strangers work together in a dangerous, “what if” scenario. You’re stuck inside four walls and you gotta figure-out how to get out.

It was only a matter of time before someone in Hollywood thought, “Gee – if we took this concept to the absolute extreme, it could make for an cheaply-made, money grabbing January thriller!”

So along comes “Escape Room”, the first major studio release of 2019. And it’s exactly what you’d expect. Six random people are brought together and challenged to make it out of a series of complex, intense and insane escape rooms. The winner… supposedly… gets $10,000.

Like 2017’s “The Belko Experiment” (conceived by the now modern-day blacklisted James Gunn), there’s much more going on here than they think. There’s an evil mastermind behind it all, watching their every move. And they soon discover this is not a game.

“The Truman Show” is one of my favorite movies. The revelation that you’ve been watched by millions of people your entire life – simply for experimental “research” – is immensely fascinating.

But as much as director Adam Robitel (of “Insidious: The Last Key”) tries to incorporate social commentary and suspense into this dull, lifeless premise, there’s nothing special or insightful about “Escape Room”.

Deborah Ann Woll and Logan Miller
Deborah Ann Woll and Logan Miller

The cast of mostly unknowns delivers weak performances. The story goes in predictable directions. The film actually gets off to a mind-boggling start by giving away a major “surprise” in the first 3 minutes. To Robitel’s credit, it’s his most effective scene.

“Escape Room” clocks in at 100 minutes, though it feels much shorter. With a PG-13 rating, audiences are tempted, but never convinced, to jolt in places – let alone scream or hold on tight to their chairs. The notably uninspired visuals certainly don’t help.

A sequel is conveniently set up at the end. Don’t be surprised if “Escape Room 2” takes the first weekend of January slot next year. But this concept needs a drastic makeover.

I’ll do my best not to participate again. Though I did feel like the winner when I finally escaped the screening room as the closing credits rolled.

Jackson Murphy: Emmy Award-winning Film Critic / Entertainment Reporter. Broadcast Film Critics Assoc. (@CriticsChoice), SAG-AFTRA (@SAGAwards)