With a new year comes the January dump that movie fans have become accustomed to. It’s the time of year when studios offer up minimal effort features as an escape from the awards season discussion. It’s all a low-stakes affair with minuscule expectations. Thankfully this can often lead to fun unassuming surprises like Escape Room.
The film centers around six strangers – Zoey (Taylor Russell), Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), Mike (Tyler Labine), Ben (Logan Miller), Danny (Nik Dodani), and Jason (Jay Ellis) who come together after receiving an invitation to a new escape room experience with a grand prize of $10,000. They soon find out the stakes are much higher than winning or losing and must work together if they hope to escape with their lives.
Plot-wise the film plays out like the Baby Einstein version of Saw. Rather than dump the audience straight into the mystery the film reveals the penultimate level and its participants, diluting the intrigue that is meant to carry you through the next 90 minutes. This is followed by character introductions that telegraph the haves and have-nots while the film sprinkles in a few groan-worthy platitudes just in case you missed the glowing neon signs that read “THIS IS THEIR CHARACTER FLAW”.
With that out of the way the games commence, and if Saw were a Rubik’s Cube, a game designed to test one’s will and mental aptitude, then Escape Room is a collection of those moments in Dora the Explorer where you have to point at the bridge just behind her except sometimes the bridge is out of frame, a simple task disguised as more thanks to unfair manipulation. In practice, each room’s set of objectives fluctuate between glaringly obvious and unsolvable unless the characters point it out. This doesn’t make the game any less fun in the moment, but rather unsatisfying once the full puzzle is revealed.
This all combines to create a sense of familiarity. We’ve met these characters before, and we’ve played this game numerous times. Within the first quarter of the film, you could take a guess at the film’s outcome and get at least 80% of the way there. The other 20% being reveals that lead to a “sure, if you say so” shrug.
Yet, despite all that Escape Room has working against it, I walked away feeling refreshed. After downing a handful of heavier features in the past few months, Escape Room is a comfortable palette cleanser. There is a level of satisfaction in watching someone struggle with a puzzle you solved five minutes prior, or to watch people squabble as they find themselves in a giant oven. It’s silly and inoffensive, sometimes ridiculous, but it always manages to be entertaining on one level or another. Whether you’re laughing with it or at it, at least you’re laughing.
Nobody will remember Escape Room when February and March roll around, but by then it’ll have already served its purpose. We’ll soon be on to prettier, deeper films that warrant our interest and challenge our perspectives, but until then it’s good for a one-night stand.