Director: Adam Robitel
Starring: Taylor Russell, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis, Nik Dodani
Runtime: 100 minutes
For a long time, January was notorious for being the month where studios dump all the movies they have no faith in. And between the holiday leftovers and last-minute Oscar nominee screenings, January movies are typically looked over and forgotten in favor of objectively better cinema. However, in the last few years, we’ve gotten a couple of surprises out of the first month of the year. Molly’s Game, Paddington, Split, and The Grey are just a few January movies released in the past decade that managed to captivate and entertain audiences on a higher level than simply “well, at least I was able to get out of the house.” So when I heard about Escape Room, despite the actors ranging from small-time television stars to virtual nobodies, the premise was interesting enough that I found myself somewhat hopeful when going to see this. But enough preamble; let’s talk about the movie.
Escape Room, just as its title alludes, features the popular escape game concept with a deadly twist. The premise follows a motley group of people who, after receiving special instructions are invited to a purported famous escape room company with the promise of winning $10,000 upon winning the game. Each of the six main characters is a fairly standard archetypes, but they all have one thing in common: in some way or another each one of them is a “survivor.”
Let’s start this review proper with some positivity: there’s a lot to like in this movie. The design of each escape room is creative, and the puzzles are all interesting without coming off as ridiculous. While there are some large-scale traps on display here, it doesn’t get as ridiculous as it could have (or as I thought it might). I don’t want to spoil the traps or the rooms because that’s part of the enjoyment of the film, but for a movie called Escape Room let’s just say they delivered in that front.
Something else I found myself enjoying (to my own surprise) were the character’s motivations. While the characters themselves are mostly one-dimensional and bland (with the exception of Daredevil’s Deborah Ann Woll who I’ve never been a fan of but I absolutely loved in this film), each one has a surprisingly good reason for acting the way that they do. And when you learn each of their backstories you really feel yourself connecting with them, which makes all the tense scenes that much stronger.
Besides just the motivations, some of the dialogue and delivery in this movie feels very natural and more like real people just having a conversation than a scene in a movie (and for this type of film that works well).
The tension in the movie is established early on and very well. Whenever the characters are in danger, you feel how dire the situation is for them. There are scenes of the characters suffering under severe weather conditions, and before I even realized it I found myself genuinely worried for their wellbeing.
For me, that’s where the positive section of this review ends. And where I said there’s a lot to like here, there’s just as much if not more to dislike.
While I did like a lot of aspects of the characters, besides Woll and Tyler Labine as lovable dork Mike I felt that a lot of the acting in this movie was just okay to, at times, plain awful. While I did praise the natural feel of the dialogue at times in this movie, at other times it felt like we were in the reading room and the actors were just reciting their lines off the page. And I don’t think Logan Miller and Taylor Russell play socially awkward or outcast characters well at all; Logan Miller feels like a discount Jesse Eisenberg, and Taylor’s awkwardness sometimes comes off more as ineptitude than acting.
Beyond the acting, while I did say some of the dialogue felt natural at times, most of the dialogue was terrible. Jason (Jay Ellis) has some particularly cringe-worthy lines in the movie that made me hate his character more than anything else. And what would make the situation worse is each time a character would deliver an especially poor joke or insult, the other characters in the movie acted like it was smart or quirky as if to rub salt in the wound.
If you couldn’t tell already, despite saying that I found myself rooting for (some of) the characters, the longer the movie went on the less I felt attached to what was happening and by the end the thrills no longer got to me because I didn’t care what happened to any of them. The second half of the movie takes a steep dive in quality, and the ending of the movie is frankly unforgivable in how ridiculous it gets (and then has the nerve to try and set up a sequel). There is one scene near the end of the movie involving drugs that I did really enjoy, as it was directed and edited well, but overall by the hour mark moments I had of actual enjoyment became few and far between.
Escape Room, the first movie of 2019, comes out to be just another January flop. Wish is a shame because this movie showed a lot of potential in its premise. While there are aspects of this movie that are undeniably good, the second half of the movie dips in quality and the ending and epilogue of the movie try to introduce a new element to the movie that makes the whole experience feel cheap and stupid.
Hopefully, Glass will be able to break out of the January curse in two weeks.
Escape Room was so close to being a dumb-yet-fun thriller to start off 2019, but the ending leaves such a bad taste in your mouth it's hard to forgive the movie despite all of the things that work.