29th October 2018 (VOD Premiere)
Four friends test their intelligence in a game that takes a dark turn.
Evan Williams, Annabelle Stephenson, Elisabeth Hower
I’ve only ever done an Escape Room once. For those not aware of what it is, the name explains it all really – you pay to get locked in a room with your friends and must figure out the clues inside to reveal keys and codes that will help you get out. To add to the pressure, they’re timed too and can range anywhere from half an hour to two hours. They’re usually themed, with the obvious setting of prison cells being a popular choice as well as Sherlock Holmes inspired (but not named for copyright reasons; they’re saddled with a usually hilariously similar character like Sheldon Haims: London Detective) experiences.
I was unsuccessful in my attempt of freedom, which I’m still adamant was down to poor communication regarding the resetting of a padlock from the instructor rather than my groups incompetency, but apart from a bruised sense of pride I got out of there unscathed. No such luck for the unfortunate adults in Will Wernick’s locked-into-mediocrity thriller Escape Room.
It’s Tyler’s (Evan Williams) birthday and after a surprise meal with his typically American-named pals, his girlfriend Christen (Elisabeth Hower) presents him with a box that looks like it could contain an expensive watch or fancy fountain pen. Imagine his surprise/disappointment (delete as appropriate for how you’d feel) when he opens it to discover not a swanky new timepiece but six cards granting him and his five chums entry to an exclusive, $1000-per-person Escape Room.
Luckily, everyone turned up to the meal (trust me, these Escape Room companies do not like giving refunds for non-attendees) and wasting no time to let their meals settle, they get into a limo and head to the secret destination. While travelling, they’re blindfolded and the next thing they see is the inside of their Escape Rooms. Tyler is trapped in a place filled with newspapers and old TV’s that looks like the set of a BBC comedy panel show which jokes about the media, Anderson (Dan J. Johnson) and Natasha (Annabelle Stephenson) are handcuffed together in what seems to be a hunter’s front room with the heads of his prize kills on the wall and Tabby (Kelly Delson) along with her boyfriend Conrad (John Ieradi) are contained within a sterilised, bright white operating room.
And then there’s Christen.
Definitely getting the short straw, Christen is naked and locked in a tiny cage. On one of the TV’s in her boyfriend Tyler’s room, a live feed reveals her situation to the group. His initial reaction? “It’s all part of the game!” If I’d signed up for a fun time at an Escape Room and I saw one of my friends or girlfriend not only completely naked but stuck in a cage and crying, I most certainly wouldn’t think it’s included in the proceedings.
So they carry on their merry way, thinking the whole point of it all is to discover why she’s sealed in such a cramped enclosure and ultimately free her. I mean, it technically is, but they shouldn’t be doing it so gleefully. The fun abruptly comes to a halt when participants in one of the rooms get a puzzle wrong and rather than being given another crack at it, they pay for it with their lives.
As the time ticks to zero and the stakes become painfully real, the remaining members must use all of their three wits they have between them if they’re going to live to see tomorrow’s brunch.
It’s an arduously long time before anything of interest happens in Escape Room. At 81 minutes, it’s on the short side but for the first hour nothing that even remotely resembles peril occurs. Forgive me, I tell a lie – Anderson cuts his finger slightly on a fast-closing door flap. The majority of the film is essentially the same as watching five uninteresting people try to complete an Escape Room the same way you would; knowing you’ll be let out after the hour by a laughing employee who’s mocking your inability to complete the first and basic task.
Not to be confused with Sony’s same-named 2019 release Escape Room, although it’s very likely to be a bigger-budgeted production of the exact same predicament, the real challenge here is to make it through without it losing your attention. Unlike the excellent 2007 French head-scratcher Fermat’s Room, in which four mathematicians must solve increasingly difficult equations in a slowly shrinking room, the puzzles here aren’t clever enough for you to want to solve them yourself. There’s no connection with the answers and the character traits or flaws either, something which the gory Saw series tried to do. At least there was a reason for the characters being trapped in the sick games, as flimsy as they might have been. Here, the eventual unsatisfactory explanation (along with the final product) leaves a lot to be desired.
You’d have to have characters with a bit of depth to have puzzles relating to them though. Predictably, that’s not the case here. Tyler appears to have some sort of anger issues as he displays infrequent outbursts of rage, Tabby and Conrad are a typically hot-blooded perfectly groomed pairing whose relationship is solely based on bumping uglies, Anderson is as interesting as a cookie crumb and Natasha is grumpier than a grizzled grandfather. Christen doesn’t have much more to do for the majority other than cry and seem pained, both of which are done unconvincingly. I have no idea why she was starkers either, but it’s a little unsettling that her friends didn’t seem phased by her lack of clothes.
I suggest you seek out a real-world Escape Room and have a bash at it yourself rather than watch these dullards, who’d have trouble getting out of a wet paper bag, attempt one.
Escape Room is available for digital download from 29th October and can be bought here
One of the fatalities is wince-inducing
Absolutely nothing of interest happens for an hour
Devoid of tension, even with the threat of a countdown timer