Escape Room (2019) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Usually, a horror movie being released in January is a sign of a bad movie. Add the fact that Escape Room (2019) is rated PG-13, and it almost seemed doomed from the start. Which is why, for most of the movie, I sat stunned as I found myself caring about the characters while enjoying the various set-pieces in a horror movie…in January. It is always a pleasant surprise when a movie manages to surpass your expectations…even if the end of the film lives up to the original concerns.

Escape Room didn’t have me running towards the exit!

Zoey (Taylor Russell), Ben (Logan Miller), Jason (Jay Ellis), Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), Mike (Tyler Labine), and Danny (Nik Dodani) each receive an invitation to participate in an immersive new Escape Room. They meet for the first time inside the waiting room, which turns out to be the first room they must escape. It becomes clear that the stakes are much higher than the promised $10,000 prize money.

Most of the cast is really great, and they commit to the premise. Russell, who is arguably the lead, is solid for most of the film – but her role later in the film is one of the weaker parts. However, the real standouts are Miller, Woll, and Ellis. Not to take anything away from the comedic relief that Labine and Dodani manage to bring to many of the scenes…honestly, all of these characters are much more developed than one may expect from this type of movie. Nonetheless, the performances by Miller, Woll, and Ellis really stand out, as two of their characters have strong personalities and the other is easily one of the most sympathetic. It was a pleasant surprise to watch a horror movie whose premise clearly wants to kill off most of its characters by the film’s conclusion, and yet still genuinely feel concerned for all of their safety.

I’ve never done an escape room before – and after seeing this movie, my paranoia of trusting strangers to lock me in a room has increased too much. The rooms themselves in the film are extremely cool. The puzzles are challenging, and the clues are not too obvious – yet they clearly hint at deeper backstories for each of the characters. It quickly becomes apparent – and in a compelling fashion – that the game isn’t a game. The waiting room becomes an oven (a fact that is foreshadowed throughout the room subtly) as the characters await the gamemaster to start the game. Magazines in the room read “singe”, news articles about people dying in a fire are placed about, and a copy of Fahrenheit 451 is on the bookshelf. The clues being present, but also a part of the room, only make the film more compelling – and you mostly feel the characters make reasonable choices.

Final thoughts…

Escape Room is nearly a great horror film through its entirety.  It’s ending isn’t very good, which is forgivable, as deciding how to end a movie is often a challenge…but the epilogue feels extremely tacked on and sequel hungry. I wish the filmmaker had focused on finishing what started so strong rather than hoping for a second one. Escape Room earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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