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.
“I love Canada,” says Mountain Men star Chace Crawford. “I’m from Texas so I get along with Canadians really well. There is some weird kindred spirit there.”
Crawford is best known as the star of Gossip Girl — he played Upper East Side heartthrob Nate Archibald on over 100 episodes of the hit show — but he got his big break working in Canada.
“I worked in Montreal on my first film ever back in 2005,” he says. “It was a Screen Gems movie called The Covenant, which was like The Craft meets the Backstreet Boys. I had the best time of my life on that. I love Montreal but I know Montreal is a lot different than Toronto or Vancouver and definitely Revelstoke.”
Revelstoke is, indeed, a long hike from Montreal. The beautiful southeastern British Columbia community has provided a backdrop for films dating back to the 1930s — a 1937 Lilli Palmer about the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway was partially shot there — and gave Mountain Men its picturesque setting.
The film is the story of estranged brothers Cooper (Crawford) and Toph (Tyler Labine, real life brother of the film’s writer and director Cameron Labine). When Cooper returns home to attend their mother’s wedding, Toph tricks him into taking a trip into the Rocky Mountains. When everything goes wrong they must bond or die.
The scenery is suitably rustic, but Crawford says the location wasn’t as rough as it looks in the film.
“We really pulled it off,” he says. “To be honest we got there in April and had this house up in the middle of nowhere. There was a couple feet of snow everywhere but by the end it was gorgeous springtime. The snow just slowly melted. We had to keep going higher and higher up the mountain to make it look more treacherous. It was nice out almost. It was more wet than anything.”
When he wasn’t shooting on the mountain he was getting to know his co-star.
“Tyler and me shared a big house,” he says. “He has a family and a wife and kids and he’s a great dad, but he got to be away from that for a moment and kind of lock in. We’d go out and have a few drinks and get to know one another. There was nothing negative about it. We didn’t get tired of one another or angry. It was more a bonding experience and by the end of it we were brothers from another mother.”
“Cottage Country” is a twist on your usual cottage in the woods movie. Typically in films like “Sleepaway Camp” or “The Hills Have Eyes,” groups of feral teens weekend at a remote cabin, only to find their mortality at the bottom at of a bottle of Jägermeister.
“Cottage Country” is different, at least for the first twenty minutes or so. There are no teens in sight. Instead we’re introduced to Todd (Tyler Labine) and Cammie (Malin Akerman), a tightly wound thritysomething couple on their way to his family’s cottage for a much needed week away.
The yuppie duo has big plans for the next seven days, including a well-thought-out proposal on a romantic island in the lake.
The first clue that isn’t a romantic comedy or a study in proper yuppie lust is Cammie’s prophetic line, “I have a feeling this is going to be our best trip to the cottage ever!”
Instead it’s the beginning of a nightmare trip that turns violent when Todd’s free spirited brother Salinger (Dan Petronijevic) and his morbid girlfriend Masha (Lucy Punch) show up unannounced.
You’ll have to buy a ticket to get the rest of the plot. I won’t spoil any of the surprises contained within beyond saying this turns from country idyll to a study in yuppie rage and duplicity. Prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure future happiness Todd and Cammie reveal their true colours—his lack of a backbone and her obsessive compulsion on following plans to the letter, no matter what the outcome.
Good performances from “Tucker and Dale vs Evil’s” Tyler Labine, “Watchman’s” Malin Akerman and Benjamin Ayres as an unusually observant party guest, help sell the movie’s transition from yuppie rom com to horror show. It’s a slow burn that bridges the gap between the gore (and gory ideas) and the gags.