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Review: 'Escape Room' struggles to solve its own puzzle

Courtesy of Sony Pictures 


For starters, I attended a screening of “Escape Room” at the beginning of December (ions before the onslaught of late December releases would hit the table) and if not for my notes, I would be struggling to remember key components of the narrative. And that, in a nutshell, is the long-term impact “Escape Room” - the de-facto PG13 rated thriller given the title of first new release of 2019 - will leave on your brain.

Being marketed like a “Saw” film, but for teenagers, “Escape Room” is an interesting bag that attempts to smooth the audience over with its taut execution of escape room puzzles. The film seemingly tosses a batch of strangers (played by mostly unknown actors: Deborah Ann Woll, Taylor Russell, Tyler Labine, Logan Miller, Nik Dodani and Jay Ellis) into a locked caged and they must fight, crawl, and bleed their way out if they want to survive.

On the line is a $10,000 cash payout for those who make it to the end, but when the first room turns into an a literal incinerator ready to explode on que, money is the last thing they’ll be worried about. But “Escape Room” does offer up an intriguing slice of set design, as Edward Thomas’s crafty rooms have a sense of drudge filled with each passing moment. One room tosses the characters into a setting where everything is upside down, forcing the comrades to solve the puzzle before the floor disappears from beneath them.

That sequence has a sense of urgency, that I can remember, unlike the others - except it's the last stretch where “Escape Room” fails its audience and waters down the concept its been preaching for the brief 90 minute runtime. I don’t want to spoil the contrived ending, but let’s just say it won’t be a shock to anyone in the theater that all these characters are together for a reason. It’s a shame, because for a minute I tried to dig “Escape Rooms” nifty and erratic aesthetic, but it feels like director Adam Robitel and writer Bragi F. Schut had a contractual obligation to keep things walking a steady and predictable path. You might end up being frustrated, because it shows what could have been.

The only memorable performances come from Miller and Russell, who end up taking on the reigns inside the lifelike video game, trying to decipher the clues while others just scream at each other. Safe to assume that not everyone will make it out alive, with characters being slayed quicker than a “Final Destination” sequel - but their deaths - at least - will serve the young teens old enough to buy a ticket.

Other than that, the final twenty minutes are some of the more laughable moments in any horror film (PG13 or not) which, and I can’t understand why, sets up a second entry. Aside from cheeky moments of suspense that likely would play better on a Freeform television series, “Escape Room” opens too many mystery boxes, and forgets to solve them.

Grade: C

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