There is a growing craze across the U.S. for ‘escape rooms’: an adventure game that involves using your wits to solve puzzles and riddles, opening locks and, ultimately, doorways, to free yourself within a pre-set time-frame. Playing off this trend comes the newest Thriller from Lionsgate, the aptly-titled Escape Room, which was released on VOD and DVD October 17, 2017
An upper-crust group of late twenty-somethings are gathered in a swank Los Angeles restaurant in honor of dapper Tyler’s (Evan Williams: Degrassi: The Next Generation series, Versailles series) thirtieth birthday. The mastermind behind the gathering appears to be his lovely girlfriend Christen (Elisabeth Hower: Suits series, HairBrained 2013), who has brought together some of the couple’s best friends and family. In attendance are Tyler’s beautiful sister Tabby (Kelly Delson: The Adventures of Superseven series, Walking In LA 2014) and her boyfriend Conrad (John Ierardi: CSI:NY series, Pray for Rain 2017), who appears to be merely along for the ride.
Art gallery owner and typical elitist snob Natasha (Annabelle Stephenson: Revenge series, Point of Honor 2015) is making googly-eyes at the birthday boy, despite being accompanied by her husband, the reserved and intelligent Anderson (Dan J. Johnson: Dead Boyz Can’t Fly 1992, Salem Rogers 2015). Then there is dippy Hadlee (Iris Avalee: Ashes 2010, October 9th 2016), who seems be hanging out solely for the free food and booze. In fact, when Christen gifts her man with a set of invites to the local Escape Room and a non-descript black van shows up to escort the sextet, Hadlee quickly finds herself left behind as she quips about being “unlucky.”
At the Escape Room, the friends are blindfolded, led into an industrial warehouse somewhere on the city’s outskirts, and quickly separated. Birthday boy Tyler soon discovers that he is trapped inside a brick room that is a mess of old TVs, computer monitors, and newspapers. Somewhere in the same complex, Tabby and Conrad find themselves locked in a metal room with Conrad the unfortunate victim of a rather bizarre male chastity belt complete with padlock. For their part, Natasha and Anderson are shackled together inside what appears to be an oddities parlor, complete with leather sofa and taxidermied bear head. As the individuals within each room work to solve the puzzle of how to open their particular door, the group are slowly brought back together – minus one.
Realizing that they must work as a team to escape the maze of puzzles in which they are trapped – especially if they hope to rescue their missing friend in the 41 remaining minutes – the group will have to use their wits and stay loyal to one another to make their escape. Clocking in at 82 minutes, Escape Room was directed by Will Wernick (Alone 2010, Valley Heist short 2016) and co-written by Wernick and Noah A.D. (Mr. Miller Dahl 2007, Merchants of Venice short 2016). Riding off the growing popularity of ‘escape rooms’ – you know, those places where you pay to get in and then have to solve a series of puzzles to get out! – this is a Thriller with some Horror elements, a film that toes the line dangerously close to that other Lionsgate phenome, 2004’s Saw.
While Escape Room is somewhat predictable and lacks the exploitive, superfluous gore of other similar films – which you may or may not appreciate – it is an enjoyable watch. The ensemble cast are fairly solid in their roles, portraying a motley cast of characters who are not entirely lovable but are also not simple cannon fodder either. Which is to say that, unlike many other films in this genre, you will not spend the entire experience merely hoping for their untimely demise. Williams holds down much of the production as the multidimensional birthday boy Tyler, while his co-stars – especially Stephenson (Natasha) and Ierardi (Anderson) – provide a solid performance in their equally well-rounded characters. It is a compliment to Stephenson’s acting skills that, as Natasha, she is a truly annoying woman!
Overall, Escape Room is a solid entry into the Thriller/Horror genre with a sequel almost guaranteed to follow. It is not as brilliant as that other film, ahem, where you play a game with other’s lives, but in this twist where you author your own fate, there is enjoyment in being along for the ride. It is elementary, my dear reader, that you pay attention to even the slightest details and try to solve the riddles along with the gang. You do not want to find yourself trapped inside a cage of your own making! For the appreciation of a good conundrum and a thrill for the craft of solving riddles, CrypticRock give Escape Room 4 of 5 stars.
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