Don’t get me wrong, Escape Room is a dumb film. Its shaky foundation is barely supported by any rational semblance of plot, character, or even logic. But all of those cataclysmic shortcomings never stop it from being an unapologetically fun dumb film.
The movie begins with both a bang and a whimper as we see a young man crash through the ceiling of a lush, leather library. Ben (Logan Miller) is limping and bloodied, and the instant he gets back up onto his hobbled feet he starts looking for clues and a riddle to solve. As the room quickly starts closing in on him (à la the trash compactor in Star Wars), the panic increases. It’s clear that Ben has been through a lot, and seems to know what he’s doing, even though he’s very unhappy about the whole situation.
We then get thrown back to the origin of the games Ben is playing, or at least as much as Escape Room is willing to tell us. A group of strangers, only three of whom get personalized introductions, are brought together to participate in one of those new “escape game” activities. In addition to Ben, we also find Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), a veteran whose PTSD is predictable and an early liability, and Mike (Tyler Labine), the loveable older white guy who thinks it’s his job to tell everyone to stay calm. The film and characters are all so aware of the clichéd nature of the ragged crew, they actually discuss their group in terms of horror archetypes and survivors at one point.
Though in real life those are typically adventures a group of friends will pay to solve together, this one is instead done with a collection of outsiders and offers a cash reward to anyone who can solve it. Nothing fishy about that, right?
After the group has assembled, the first game begins before they know it. What started as their waiting room soon becomes a furnace. It gets really hot, really quick, and this is before the gang even know what puzzle they need to solve. Through quick flashbacks and asides, we learn that some of the scares specifically target one of the members of the group, and therefore it’s no accident that they’re all there on that same day. As we go through the various puzzles posed to our newly-bonded team, they become increasingly personal and increasingly absurd. Escape Room asks its audience to checks its intelligence at the door, and the viewing experience is best if you comply.
Thankfully, the movie doesn’t spend too long on those pesky, emotional origins of the characters, and instead really focuses on the puzzles themselves. Through some tight editing, serviceable performances, and an overwhelming score, the adrenaline is kept pumping throughout the film in hopes that you never question too much about the logic behind what you’re watching. There is some attempt within the plot to later approach answering those pesky questions, but in a sloppy style that only leads to even more questions.
Escape Room is as if someone put Saw 2 and Hostel 3 in a blender and over-baked it just a tad. Its complete and utter lack of ever taking itself or its characters seriously is the film’s major saving grace. While this all makes it quite fun, it still doesn’t make it any good.