Escape Room enters the landscape of Oscar hopefuls and blockbuster holdovers trying to prove that quality cinema can be found in the early parts of the year. Hell, last February Black Panther opened huge and became the highest grossing film of 2018. Surely a film that from its trailer looked like nothing more than a PG-13 version of Saw can surprise and make money!
Well, they tried. When six strangers are sent puzzle boxes in the mail, they all end up at a mysterious building and are told if they can survive the escape room game they will be playing they can win $10,000. As they work together to solve all of the rooms and get closer to the end, they start to realize it might not have been so random that they were brought here. As the mystery unravels, so does their sanity as they race to beat the traps and survive.
Yeah, it is pretty much PG-13 Saw. From the start they make the odd choice to give us some back story on only a few of the characters, before dishing out some of the others later on. It is a weird choice, and one they made so we can get some haphazard twists. Escape Room teeters on the edge of becoming a mess, but the inventiveness and production design of the rooms themselves save the middle of the runtime. Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key) has a good eye for action and does a good job ramping up the tension in each environment we enter.
Unfortunately we spend way too long in a few of the rooms and by the end we are moving through them at a breakneck and confusing pace to make sure we get to the end "twist" to shock us, which is not really a twist at all and realistically one of the only handful of endings they could realistically pull off. The problem is that instead of a straight line to said ending, they take a gravel road that twists and turns and becomes so bloated and convoluted nobody cares anymore. It really is a shame.
It is a real shame. Not all six of our game participants are great, but the majority of them turn in nice performances. Deborah Ann Woll is great as an Iraq War veteran, Jay Ellis plays a great go-getter jerk, and Tyler Labine is good as the elder statesman of the group. The standout is Taylor Russell, who the film is mostly centered around. She is enjoyable to watch, and does a solid job making us believe she is gaining confidence as the story moves along.
Nothing can save you from the end however. It ruins all of the good will built up, and you end up leaving the theater wondering what could have been. It isn't that it should be move violent like a Saw film, but if they just could have figured out that last 15-20 minutes, they may have really had something here. Come for the production design, leave with about 20 minutes left.