I have to admit, I was a bit shocked at how much I enjoyed 2019’s Escape Room. Going in, I fully expected it to be what I call “dumb fun.” No, this movie was genuinely good! Good horror! Good suspense! Good drama! And it actually had real characters and a real story? Add in the elaborate, “fun” puzzles and the special effects, this surprised the heck out of me. And for people who think PG-13 horror can’t be intense or fun, then this film proves you wrong. Just sayin’.
So, full disclosure, I’ve never done an escape room, even though I’ve always desperately wanted to do one. The general gist of an escape room is that a number of people are “locked” inside a room with a certain theme, like WW1 battlefield or a zombie outbreak, and using clues in the room, they have to figure out how to “escape.” It sounds fun, huh? To be fair, I don’t know why I’m so excited to try one of these because I suck at puzzles and such, but it still sounds fun!
The 2019 film, directed by Adam Robitel, was apparently made by Robitel because at the time in 2017, there were no movies about escape rooms. Since then, there’s been something like eight. Yes, eight! Unrelated to his, that is. The sequel to the 2019 film just came out recently, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions.
Anyhow, the plot of this film follows six people, who were presented with a puzzle cube by people they trusted, or at least, it seems like the cube came from those people (we later learn that that, too, was a ruse).
There’s Zoey (played by Taylor Russell), a young, shy college student; Jason (played by Jay Ellis), a wealthy daytrader; Ben (played by Logan Miller), a grocery store worker; Mike (played by Tyler Labine), a middle-aged, existential crisis truck driver; Amanda (played by Deborah Woll, who it took me way too long to realize was in Daredevil!); and Danny (played by Nik Dodani), who is the “expert” at escape rooms. He’s escaped from dozens.
I think five of the six are inspired to take part in the escape room because there’s a promise that, if you solve it, you get $10,000. Zoey, on the other hand, I think, is inspired to do it over Thanksgiving break because she wants to do something daring. The film in a short amount of time did a commendable job of making me not only like the Zoey character, but root for her throughout the film to escape.
The brilliance of how this starts is that the six “contestants” go to an office building and a “waiting room” on the third floor. Turns out, the game has already begun and they didn’t even realize it. Once they do, the entire room turns into a real-life oven. Still, at that point, even after they manage to escape just as the rooms bursts into flames, Danny thinks it’s all part of the game. That nobody is really going to get hurt.
Therefore, I would conclude that the “crap” had not yet hit the fan. The next room, where they are trapped in some sort of frozen hell trying to figure out how to get warm and escape, is when the crap hits the fan. Danny dies first after falling through the ice. I figured as much because he had the most experience with escape rooms and wasn’t taking it seriously as real-life. That’s when the crap hit the fan.
From there, they go to an upside-down billiards bar, where Amanda is next to die after heroically getting the puzzle piece to the group. At this point, Jason has been depicted as the foe among the group. He’s sort of a jerk and rather “survival of the fittest” about all of this. And it gets darker.
Once they get to the next room, which looks like a makeshift hospital with a “bed” for each of them, we learn that all six were sole survivors of some sort of calamity. Zoey survived a plane crash, which killed her mother. Danny survived carbon monoxide killing his whole family. Amanda survived an IED blast while serving in Iraq. Ben survived a car crash. Mike escaped a mine cave-in. And Jason survived a boat flip on the water in cold weather.
The people behind the game, the Gamekeeper and such, wanted to see who is the fittest of the sole survivors, and how much of it is luck or skill or something else?
Mike and seemingly Zoey die in the hospital room due to gas poisoning.
It comes down to Ben and Jason in a room with optical illusions, where both unknowingly ingest some sort of drug. Only one shot of an antidote is in the room. We learn here that Jason probably is a monster in his own way because he killed his friend to be the sole survivor and is willing to kill others here to survive the escape room.
Ben, surprisingly, makes it. That surprised the Gamekeeper, as Ben had the lowest odds of making it. But, of course, the game is rigged. It’s not as if they were going to let Ben escape. The Gamekeeper tries to kill him.
That’s when Zoey — who started thinking outside the box and tricked the “clean-up” crew to escape — returns to help kill the Gamekeeper.
Zoey and Ben, again surprisingly, both make it out! The police don’t believe them about any of it, but who cares, they survived! They cheated the Gamekeeper and the people behind the gamekeeper who were trying to cheat them! I dig it.
The idea for the people behind the puzzles is that they have to keep upping the stakes; athletes in a box, savants in a box, and sole survivors in a box. The next movie seems to take it to the next level with a “tournament of champions.”
I see Escape Room as essentially being like Saw. You have to solve the clues to figure out how to escape and there’s some sort of deep backstory on why you are there and were chosen by the powers-that-be. And if you stumble, you’ll get hideously killed.
Of course, Escape Room is PG-13, though, so it’s not as gory and the puzzles are far more elaborate.
If you were like me and thought this was going to be a goofy movie and I-don’t-know-why-I-decided-to-spend-tonight-watching-this, I highly recommend giving this a shot. It’s fun! And actually intense.
The pacing is perhaps the best feature of the film, as it essentially doesn’t let up for its entire runtime of 95-ish minutes. Not to mention, there’s a fun cliffhanger at the end where Zoey and Ben agree to go to New York (they are based in Chicago) and take it to the people behind the puzzles … somehow. After all, it’s not just that the puzzle-makers gather these people into a box and kill them to see who survives (and then kills that person, too). They also make it seem like all the people who died died in tragic accidents, as reported in the news.
Zoey’s arc from shy college student afraid to raise her hand to confident, take-no-crap girl smashing the puzzle-makers’ cameras in the hospital and then wanting to proactively take the fight to them by the end is great to watch. Zoey is now one of my favorite heroes in horror of the last five or so years. Go, Zoey!