In retrospect, it’s actually kind of surprising that there hasn’t been an escape room-themed thriller until now. The popular interactive mystery games are kind of mini films. There’s a built-in set, stakes, opportunities for conflict and teamwork and a logical start and finish. It’s certainly a more obvious fit for a movie than a board game or theme park ride.
So, from the imaginations of “Fast & Furious” producer Neal H. Moritz and “Insidious: The Last Key” director Adam Robitel comes ”Escape Room ”, the movie stars an eclectic cast of characters, each of whom receives a mysterious invitation to try out a brand-new, “escape room” experience.
The contestants, who are promised $10,000 if they win the game, include a shy math wizard (Taylor Russell, “Lost in Space”), a frustrated burnout (Logan Miller, “Love, Simon”), a cheerful trucker (Tyler Labine, “New Amsterdam”), an alpha-male businessman (Jay Ellis, “Insecure”), a scarred war veteran (Deborah Ann Woll, “Daredevil”) and an escape-room expert (Nik Dodani, “Murphy Brown”) who’s mostly just here for exposition.
Once they’re in the escape room, and once they realize their lives are at stake, they frantically search for clues, make disturbing realizations about one another, and generally follow the same overall structure from Vincenzo Natali’s low-budget 1997 sci-fi thriller “Cube.” Survive one deadly room, go to the next, lose a member of your team every 10 minutes or so in a tragic but awesome kill sequence, rinse, repeat.
It’s a formula, but it works if you can keep the audience’s interest. The makers of “Escape Room” deserve a lot of credit for making all the actual escape rooms varied and intriguing.
The cast ventures from a chamber that’s built like a giant oven to an indoor mountain range where they’re going to freeze to death. Another room is built like an upside-down pool hall, forcing them to solve puzzles while hanging on for dear life and listening to Petula Clark’s “Downtown” at full blast, which is skipping on the jukebox. Every set piece is visually distinctive and filled with detail, and it almost — almost — makes you want to play along.
“Escape Room” seems to be gimmicky and simplistic, but there’s no sense in complaining about that. That is, after all, why we bought our tickets. We asked to sit in this room with 100 minutes of escapism, and “Escape Room,” in an impressive display of truth in advertising, gives it to us.
In other words, Adam Robitel’s film makes the most of a bad setup and emerges mostly victorious by the end. So, if The Robitel Theorem holds, this may just mean that 2019 is going to turn out, if not necessarily great, then at least a little better than it started.