Of all of the cultural trends in 2018, Escape Rooms have to be one of the most puzzling. Popping up all over the world in disused lots and buildings, the supposedly ‘fun’ mental puzzles for participants to work out that ensure their freedom have become a social staple amongst millennials. But being locked in a random badly decorated room and forced to find clues in a time-sensitive challenge on a trip you probably didn’t want to go on but were outnumbered in the group chat honestly sounds like an actual nightmare.
Taking the escape room premise and flipping the concept so that it becomes a legitimate threat is the ingeniously titled Escape Room, which sees Tyler (Evan Williams) and his friends embark on an exclusive deadly game night organised by girlfriend Christen (Elisabeth Hower) for his 30th birthday. After 30 minutes of getting to know the completely disposable and unlikeable characters- Tyler, Christen, guy who is horny 24/7, blonde girl who is also horny 24/7, glasses-wearing comic relief and angry girl who definitely wants to sleep with Tyler, the film finally settles into its evening of fun as the group are split into four separate rooms each with their own unique design and puzzles that will unlock the doors to get them into the other rooms. Quite brilliantly, the low budget nature of the film is smartly utilised because each of the rooms has to look like, well, a set. But sparsely decorated, boxy interiors do not conjure the claustrophobic terror one might imagine as the group, realising that they are separated from Christen, begin to suspect that they are not actually playing a game at all.
After a handful of regular escape room challenges are completed, the stakes are raised and it seems that the rooms are designed to kill, the ticking clock a thankful reminder of how long of the film is left. The film’s opening scene, showing a previous participants ill-fate, is totally reminiscent of some moments in last year’s Jigsaw but any further attempts to reach the depravity and complexity of the Saw franchise fall short in the film’s ‘climactic’ moments, although the special effects are rather striking at times.
Due to the popularity of escape room experiences in 2018, the film had a real culture moment in its grasp, with the potential to go to dark and frighteningly realistic places. But with annoying characters pulled straight out of the worst noughties slasher film and a script that feels underdeveloped, Escape Room has neither the tricks nor the timing to stand out.
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screen Queens. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her lifesource is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends way too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here