The fun of playing an escape room is all in the details and no two experiences are ever the same since each one has its own unique story, challenges, and motif that push the players further in the hopes of winning. As with each room, some have great attention to detail while others can feel slapped together. Though, when it all comes down to it, we base our takeaway on that final riddle in the room. A bad finale can ruin an interesting adventure. Unfortunately, in the case of Escape Room the movie, a terrible ending was the least of its problems.
Escape Room, which was directed by Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key), and written by Bragi F. Schut (Threshold) and Maria Melnik (American Gods), focused on six strangers who were invited to a mysterious escape room. If the player was the first person to escape the room, they would win $10,000–this cash prize would be the driving force for many of the characters to sign up. Except, in the case of wallflower Zoey (played by Taylor Russell) who did it as a way to try something new and become more confident. Rounding out the players was burnout Ben (Logan Miller), blue-collar Mike (Tyler Labine), former military soldier Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), business executive Jason (Jay Ellis), and obsessed gamer Danny (Nik Dodani).
Each character has their own unique set of qualities that would help or hurt them in the room. Like for instance, Amanda is the fittest and could do the more physically taxing challenges, but doesn’t like confined spaces. From the onset, no information is given as to how the players were connected or why they were asked to the room, except for the hints of them having a secret. Interspersed throughout Escape Room, vivid flashbacks pop up with one of the six characters reliving a traumatic moment in their life that tied back to an element in the experience. Without spoiling the reveal, the loose connection is exactly what you’d expect some reality TV production team to think of for a casting twist. Still, the flashbacks are edited so vividly and fast-paced that it pulled us as viewers into the moment with the character.
In fact, “stunning,” “fast-paced,” and “tense” perfectly described the look and feel of Escape Room. Right from the first minute, we’re pulled into the life-or-death tone of the movie as we watch someone desperately trying to survive the game. This tone is one that stays mostly consistent since each new room brings a new level of danger that pushes the players to the brink of death. The challenges are the strongest part of Escape Room when it comes to plot; we can easily distract ourselves by following the players solve riddles. Even when a physical clock wasn’t present in the chamber, the seconds ticking away added to the tension and made the moment even more stressful.
Standing out far and above everything else was the set design and visual effects. A lot of detail was put in to build out the rooms and capture the reality of the environment. The frozen lake looked like a winter blizzard, the diner had the right amount of nostalgic ‘50s quality to it, and the paradox room gave me a splitting headache. If you only watch Escape Room for the visual appetite, you will be fulfilled.
The problem, however, is that Escape Room is filled with a majority unlikable cast. Escape Room is a horror-thriller where people work together for survival, so inevitably some will die. We should want to root them on, not cheer when their characters get killed off. Instead of balancing both their good and bad qualities, an emphasis was placed on negative traits just to heighten the drama when the tension arrived. The character development suffered and as a result, the impact of certain deaths fell flat.
Out of the main group, Russell and Woll stood out as the best of the cast. Russell’s progression from shy wallflower to assertive gameplayer provided a well-developed and relatable character to follow. Woll, on the other hand, comes out as the most sympathetic and likable.
Decisions in the script were made to the detriment of the characters in favor of supporting the predictable story. As an example, after making it through the first round, the players still don’t fully believe the danger. They were nearly set ablaze by fire, but a few characters were ADAMANT that it was all smoke and mirrors. No one, especially after narrowly escaping an explosion and heated room like that, would deny what just happened and poke fun at the experience so outlandishly. That response isn’t believable and hurts the characters. But nothing takes the cake more than the ending.
Escape Room built its momentum toward an ending that ultimately imploded. Instead of a powerful one-two punch conclusion, the movie created a mythology that came across as slapped together and rushed. We got the explanation for the game, but everything after the reveal clearly had intent for sequel/franchise viability. There’s nothing wrong with wanting that, especially if Escape Room does well; however, the momentum built before that ended up squandered in favor of a twirling mustache takeaway.
Captivating settings, interesting camera angles, and a fast-paced narrative will pull you into the tension of the game. However, unlikable characters and a perplexing plot hindered any potential it had.