One of a long list of films based on pop-culture fads — hello, Lambada — Escape Room is a film about the recent ‘experiential’ trend in which the players — often office workers on ‘team building’ events — have to solve a series of clues and puzzles to get out of a locked space in a set time. It’s a handy crutch on which to support a scary, suspenseful flick in the vein of The Game, Cube or Saw, but unfortunately, playing for thrills rather than torture porn, Adam Robitel’s film gets about halfway in terms of delivering on the promise.
After a flash-forward to a character in deep doo-doo, the set-up is a little mechanical, introducing us one by one to the (thinly drawn) key players as they are invited to the game via a little black box bearing the old Cannon films logo. So we meet shy but genius maths student Zoey (Taylor Russell), cynical millennial Ben (Logan Miller), dedicated escape roomer Danny (Nik Dodani), scarred Iraq War vet Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), blue-collar trucker Mike (Tyler Labine) and smarmy financial whizz Jason (Jay Ellis).
The characters lack dimensions.
Alighting in a huge deserted building, things pick up when the games begin: firstly, when the plush waiting room actually morphs into the first challenge, threatening to burn the players alive; the next throws them into a picturesque winter wonderland where — wouldn’t you know — the ice starts to melt and crack. And the third space is the best of all: a huge bar with a pool table and gigantic juke box (playing a slowed-down version of Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’ on loop) that is revealed to be upside down, the floor/ceiling falling away to reveal a deadly drop.
Up until now, it’s been a fun game morphing into a battle of survival, with some neat licks (there’s a nifty task where characters have to keep a series of glasses full at all time) — although the puzzles never extend to allow the audience to play along. Like most films of its ilk, the effort has gone into the contraptions, meaning the characters lack dimensions. As the machinations continue and it is revealed that the game-players are all connected in some way, the already high level of contrivance is further amped up, triggering exasperation. By the time the last door is unlocked, it is hard to care.