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“Escape the Room” becomes escape the gloom in the inescapably silly Escape Room. “I’m playing the world’s funnest game with the world’s meanest people,” a geeky participant whines at one point. He’s not wrong. All of them went voluntarily to some desolate corporate office building because of an anonymous invitation no one found suspicious at all. So cheer up!
Escape Room turns your multiplex into its own real-time simulacrum. Audience members have 109 minutes to withstand the film’s eye-rolling plot contortions before realizing they could get up and leave anytime. And, yes, part of you will die if you stay until the end.
ESCAPE ROOM ★ (1/5 stars)
Directed by: Adam Robitel
Written by: Bragi F. Schut, Maria Melnik
Starring: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, Nik Dodani
Running time: 109 min.
Without giving away any specific spoilers, at least to those unversed in Screenwriting for Dummies, the six participants were all chosen for a reason. And their inner demons are also the keys to survival. Unless they’re not. Of course (spoiler alert!) the string-pulling Gamemaster at the end has a deep British accent. And (spoiler alert!) his boss at the very end appears as a shadowy visage with a digitally distorted voice. Because Englishmen are sophisticated and rich people are sinister.
There’s $10,000 in prize money for those who make it out of the Escape Room. Yet, puzzlingly, in the film’s trailer, one of the characters specifically says it’s $1,000,000. This will not be the first time a viewer will feel gypped.
Escape Room (more accurately a murder maze, but whatever) is like the unloved love child of late ’90s idiot mindfuck puzzle movies The Game and Cube. Cue the sweaty-palmed hysterics, serendipitously placed clues, non-sequitur epiphanies, and suffocating claustrophobia. Thankfully, this gore-lite mystery-thriller didn’t borrow too much from its grislier torture-porn cousin Saw. So no one cuts off their foot.
As with any mouthbreather feint to punch above its IQ, Escape Room is fond of invoking highbrow concepts to seem smart. The one it cites is the Quantum Zeno Effect, which in this pop-culture context means that a watched subject never changes. The postulate is correct: multiple viewings will confirm that Escape Room remains bad.
By the way, Skeet Ulrich starred in a movie called Escape Room in 2017. This is not that film. Sorry, Skeet Ulrich fans.