There is an activity known as escape rooms where the players have to get out of a confined space; they pay money to participate and find it fun. However, not everyone who designs this kind of game has noble intentions for entertainment, as six people are about to find out, having each been sent a black puzzle box. For Zoey (Taylor Russell) it meant a diversion away from her lonely, subdued time at college, where she cannot even answer a question in class despite knowing the solution and much more besides. This weekend everyone is away home to see their family and friends, but she has no such comfort, so why not spend the time away from her books and take on a real challenge?
As escape rooms were genuine things, it was only a matter of time before someone applied them to the world of horror flicks, and this like-named effort was the highest profile. That was partly thanks to deeply unfortunate circumstances, as in real life a tragedy occurred when some girls were killed in an accident during one such game, and this film was delayed until it was judged a decent passage of weeks had passed, as nobody wanted their production related to an actual misfortune. Whether that was in your mind or not, the fact that the plot here detailed escape rooms that were designed to kill was merely a sad coincidence, but it did give the viewer pause to some extent.
Nevertheless, many of those who gave this a go would quickly find it more fantastical than gruesome, as while it was a chiller, it was not a gorefest. More than that, it relied on the audience staying invested in the characters and their puzzle-solving abilities, and a goodly portion of that audience was pleasantly surprised as this was very decent, both for suspense and for the ingenuity that went into devising the confined spaces the sextet have to negotiate if they want to be released with their lives. This was down to a consistently inventive script by Bragi Schut and Maria Melnik which worked hard to keep each successive location fresh and sufficiently different from the last.
Equally pleasing was that there was no cheating her, not from the players nor the writers, and director Adam Robitel was mightily assisted by some excellent art direction by Cecelia Van Straaten and Mark Walker. Really this was top notch from all concerned, and if it was ultimately derivative of many, many properties we had seen before, with the Saw and Cube franchises jostling for position in the minds of horror fans who gave this a go, that was not quite the drawback that it might have seemed to be in the initial stages. Helping were the cast who were picked off in unpredictable fashion, not bad going for what to all intents and purposes settled into the category of "pretentious slasher movie" as many of those that went before it and attempted to shake up the little-respected genre did.
Aside from Russell doing her best nerd impersonation, there was Logan Miller as a loser back room boy, Jay Ellis as a not-as-unsympathetic as you initially surmise businessman, Deborah Ann Woll as an ex-soldier, the busy Tyler Labine as a middle-aged chatterbox and Nik Dodani as another flavour of nerd who has solved a plethora of escape rooms and looks like the team's best asset if they would only listen to him. To go into detail about the specific rooms would be to spoil the surprises, but suffice to say each of the participants was chosen for a reason - they all have tragedy in their lives - which gives the room creators an excuse to put them through this torture. Alas, this was where the plot fell down, as once we are offered an idea of what the instigators were about, it was pretty facile and obviously trying to establish a franchise of its own; a better conclusion would be just that: a conclusion rather than the open ending we had. But that quibble aside, Escape Room was a high concept shocker that did justice to its ideals, mostly, not bad at all. Music by John Carey and Brian Tyler.
[Sony's Blu-ray has the following features:
8 Deleted & Extended Scenes including an Alternate Ending (which they should have stuck with)
Games, Sets, Match - How the Rooms Were Created
The Lone Survivors featuring Cast And Crew