In “Escape Room,” the new psychological thriller starring “True Blood’s” Deborah Ann Woll, the young characters don’t have time to mull over the past. They’re too busy thinking of the future and whether or not they will survive long enough to actually have one.
The story centers around six good-looking people (Woll, along with Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis and Nik Dodani) trapped in a series of immersive escape rooms. The twist? Whoever leaves last is necessarily the winner.
Each have been lured to the game—and possibly their doom—by a mysterious puzzle box delivered in the mail. They’re invited to test out a new, immersive escape room and, if they keep their wits about them and find their way out, they’ll be rewarded with $10,000. “They’re basically like real life videogames,” enthuses Danny (Dodani), an escape room geek the others nickname Gamer Boy.
Seems like an easy payday until they realize the puzzles are terrifying manifestations of each and every one of their deepest fears or trauma. One room turns into an oven (“We gotta find a way out of this Easy Bake Oven!”), another is an upside down hellscape and if that wasn’t enough, there’s even a Victorian drawing room that gets a little too close for comfort. “I can’t figure this out!” shouts truck driver Mike (Labine). “Who would do this?”
Like the less Kafkaesque (and less gory) offspring of “Cube” and “Saw,” “Escape Room” also borrows from the “Final Destination” flickers. The thing it is missing is the sense of grim fun that seeped into those other films. The rooms themselves are elaborate and yet all pretty much all the same. Find a key, unlock a door. There is suspense along the way and the stakes rise as the number of survivors lowers but we never get to know enough about each character to be invested in them. Sketchy background details fill in some blanks but it’s not enough to make you mourn the loss of any of them. Even when they do start to fall away it is with a casualness that sucks some of the drama out of the scenario. It’s as if all the effort went into the planning of the methods of executions and not the killings themselves.
Add to that some psychoanalysis and morality à la “Saw” and you have a movie that is more psychological drama than horror and even then it’s psychology-lite. The sequel ready ending promises more of the same should they ever get around to making “Escape Room 2: Breakout Boogaloo.”
“Escape Room” won’t exactly make you want to escape the theatre but it doesn’t really give you a great reason to be there in the first place.