ESCAPE ROOM, US, 2019. StarringTaylor Russell, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis, Tyler Labine, Deborah Ann Woll, Nick Dodani, Yorick van Wageningen. Directed by Adam Robitel. 98 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, violence, coarse language).
If you are going to make a terror thriller about a group of young people trapped in a range of rooms in a multi-storeyed building, trying to survive, trying to escape, then this is how you could do it well. It could be seen as an up-market, up-up-market, variation on the Saw series (rather more low-key, much more low-key on the violence and more literate in its word choices in the screenplay, opting for intelligence rather than the crass).
The film makers are rather smart. They offer us a prologue in which one of the characters, one of the less sympathetic characters, is trapped in a room with the walls gradually closing in, his being desperate to find a clue and a key to stop the potential crushing. Then, this prologue stops, and, if audience adrenaline is pumping effectively, the decision is made that, yes, this is a terror and threats thriller that I want to watch.
After which the central characters are introduced, a couple of them quite interestingly. Taylor Russell plays Zoe, a very timid young woman who is intelligent, expert in physics, but contained within herself. By contrast, Jay Ellis portrays a very successful businessman, completely confident in himself. Both of these characters are black. Then there is Ben whom we saw originally, rather ineffectual in his jobs and ambitions. In the waiting room in the building where the escape rooms are situated, we are introduced to Amanda, ex-military (with severe scars on her back after time in Iraq), Deborah Ann Woll, and a rather older man, Michael (Tyler Labine) who is interested in the challenge of going into the escape rooms. Then, Michael and Amanda are white. There is also a rather nerdish young man of Asian subcontinent descent who has participated in a huge range of these escape room games.
So that is the setup, the six people hoping for a financial reward in getting through the game, urged to look for clues, having the possibilities opting out when necessary. (Of course, this doesn’t happen.)
These Escape Rooms are like living through video games in real life, or created fantasies life. They are very difficult, extreme heat, cold and ice, a pool room where the floor gives way and the table is upside down, with Petula Clark singing Downtown, a hospital ward with files on each of them, especially concerning survival when somebody close to them has died. The question soon arises whether they have been personally chosen and are to be punished.
Needless to say, not everybody will survive, some dying by accident, some willing to give their lives so that the rest can survive.
At the end, there are some revelations that the Escape Rooms are in the line of reality television but the question is raised of who is the mastermind, who is master of the games and controls the progress of the games, what is the motivation, prurience, placing bets on survivors? There are some final explanations of future plans which are not necessary for this story which is quite well told in its own way, but there is an opening, of course, for more Escape Room stories (after all, how many Saw films have there been, up to eight or nine!).
Sony released February 7th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.