Review: Escape Room

Review: Escape Room

by Alan Grant
article from Thursday 7, February, 2019

YOU KNOW what’s in my PS4 right now? The 2019 remake of Resident Evil 2 which, for the uninitiated, is a spick and span top-down renovation of the 1998 PS One classic that takes a masterpiece of a game and mounts it in a lovely new, high-definition, frame for a new generation to marvel at. It’s got chills, great puzzles, engaging and well-developed characters, and a plot that takes camp for the occasional dirty weekend but steers clear of getting married to it and ending up in farce. It is a brilliant, near-perfect, horror experience.

I didn’t get to play Resident Evil 2 on Wednesday night because I had to sit through Escape Room - which tries to borrow from both schlocky horror tropes in properties like the Resident Evil series and the kitschy, inconsistent, but ultimately enjoyable SAW franchise and manages to make something cheap and tawdry out of those pristine, high quality parts.

It’s bad folks, really, really, really, really bad. 

What there is of a plot sees a group of six sole survivors of accidents, each with a standard-issue Tragic Backstory™ (dead parents, War vet, reluctant homicide, dead brother, and dead whole family) who are summoned by an unknown tech-savvy organisation (who might as well call themselves the Parasol Corporation) to take part in a series of murderous escape the room puzzles. One by one they get picked off by the traps until our remaining survivors turn the tables, escape, and vow revenge.

There! I just did you a favour because now you don’t have to go see this unwatchable load of dross.

Where to start with this utter train wreck? In addition to the stock character, each of whom is played by an actor who seems to be an impersonator of another actor who is far too famous for this rubbish, each cliched beat of Escape Room is presumably taken from an idea that the makers of Hostel thought was a bit far-fetched. It’s not gory – an addition which might have made it watchable as a spectacle - but there’s still a sense of bored voyeurism to the whole experience; I’m watching it because I can - not because I want to.

The colour palate is lifeless and dull and some of the effects are disorientating to the point that if you suffer from nausea you’ve got another good reason to skip this one. I should clarify that this nausea won’t be caused by whatever is on the screen but more by the lazy, trite, and cheap camera work which occasionally gives the impression of watching the film from the inside of a tumble dryer.

Plus, the director seems to have wanted to catch up on some sleep during their working day and so has let the editor do whatever they want in the last two thirds of the film – resulting in an infuriating open-ended finale and a teaser for a sequel that hopefully won’t, but unfortunately probably will, see the light of day. Add to this the fact that the whole thing revolves around a script that the average hungover first-year media studies student would be ashamed of handing in and you’ll get someway towards understanding just how bad this movie is. 

If there’s one saving grace to the whole execrable experience, it’s the soundtrack which manages to hit the right spots and brings some really cool synth pop and techno beats to this empty vessel of film. Each track has clearly been picked with care by a musical director, or other such media pro, to do the best they can with the garbage they’ve got to work with. If anyone should be allowed to escape the creation of Escape Room with their dignity intact it should be them.

I could go on about how none of the character’s motivations make any real sense upon the most basic scrutiny or how any sense of world-building seems to have been borrowed from the CliffsNotes version of some Margaret Atwood fanfiction, I could even point out that giving each person on screen one, and precisely one, character trait makes each one of them unrelatable but there is one overriding objection that I have to the way Escape Room force feeds its mundanity to an audience that has done nothing to deserve it.

The most basic reason that Escape Room doesn’t work is its seeming inability to pick a coherent style and stick with it. To begin with we’re in something trying to be a tense, escape movie, then we’re in some loathsome melodrama before, and this is the real kick to the gut, the whole thing goes a bit Jason Bourne as our remaining characters vow to take down the faceless corporation. Overall, the very worst thing about Escape Room is that it feels as if it has contempt for its audience – begrudgingly giving out poor quality copies of bits of what we like and expecting praise for it.

Oh, and we spend the large majority of the movie in a formulaic flashback – just in case the audience wasn’t disinterested enough.

This is usually the point of the review where lines like, “if you liked that, then you’ll like this” come in but that doesn’t apply here. The SAW franchise is better, the Hostelfranchise is better, and even the worst of video games like Silent Hill or Resident Evil are far in front of anything you could gain from watching Escape Room. If you want something with an ‘escape the room’, ‘unlikely team has to work together’ feel, go check out JIGSAW on Netflix and save yourself the price of the ticket.

In short, the only room that I was happy to see anyone escape from was the movie theatre when the final credits rolled and my fellow patrons and I were able to escape; that bit, I enjoyed.

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