A thousand times a day, all over the world, people volunteer to get locked up for fun….. sounds like a perfect premise for a horror movie doesn’t it?
That is what director/co-writer/producer Will Wernick (“Valley Heist (Short)”, “Alone”) thought when fellow producer Jeff Delson pitched that idea while another project they were working on was in development hell as they say. Within three short months after that, they had a script and the financing in place for Escape Room.
This tells the story of five friends who go with Tyler, played by Evan Williams (“Versailles (TV)”, “Ride”) to an elite, secretive Escape Room to celebrate his 30th Birthday.
This outing was a surprise gift from Tyler’s girlfriend Christen, with Elisabeth Hower (“Suits (TV)”, “Louie (TV)”) in that role. Over the course of the night, they all learn this game and their own relationships to each other are not what they seem, while they race against the clock to get out alive.
When I first heard about this movie it felt like an obvious setting for a horror film. I made my way around the store isles and swiped the DVD off the shelf.
Part of the reason must have been because I have gone through two escape rooms before. Like most major cities, Orlando Florida has plenty of escape rooms to choose from. Let me tell you, when you are trapped in a room with people and have to work together to get out, people start to show their true selves, and tensions can rise.
The script did well to incorporate all the elements of going through one of these rooms, while also making it an enjoyable thriller.
Noah Dorsey (“Merchants Of Venice (Short)”, “Mr. Miller Dahl (Short)”) is credited as the writer of Escape Room while Will Wernick took a story by nod for his original draft.
This’ll be fine, this is totally normal, right? Right? — Evan Williams and Elisabeth Hower in Escape Room
They did well to stay authentic to how escape rooms work. There are various clues and puzzles to solve which allows the characters to progress from room to room…. but with a deadly twist.
The production design is of a much higher quality than any escape room I have seen, this is a movie after all, so I am not surprised they embellished on the look a bit. I laughed at one part, which I’m sure anyone who has been through an escape room will enjoy, it was when a very distraught Tyler screams out “F**K these puzzles!”
The pacing of Escape Room is acceptable, but some genre fans may find the first 30 minutes to be slow to kick into gear. In the DVD commentary Will Wernick even admitted that he wishes the story jumped into the Escape Room much sooner, or even started with the characters in the room.
The movie starts with a Saw inspired scene of a man, portrayed by Billy Flynn of Days of Our Lives who has to make a tough choice that could have fatal consequences. So if you ever wanted to see a soap star in a Jigsaw death trap, the opening of Escape Room is a winner.
The filmmakers took their time to set up these characters before they are placed in the Escape Room. The character work and strong acting by this ensemble carries you through this narrative which otherwise could have been too genre heavy.
Rounding out the cast is Annabelle Stephenson (“Revenge (TV)”, “Pray For Rain”) as Natasha, a woman who has a bit of a double life. Kelly Delson (“Walking In LA”, “What If (TV)”) is picture perfect as Taddy, the better half of the stud couple of the group. In true indie filmmaking fashion Kelly Delson is also one of the producers of Escape Room.
The writers found a creative way to solve the cellphone problem, you know, having to take phones out of the equation in any thriller or horror movie. Part of the Escape Room rules required them to turn their phones in before entering. In the rooms I have been in, they let you keep your phone, but you will be disqualified if you use it. So this is a very believable plot device.
There is one moment in particular where the characters working to solve a trap lose their intelligence. This ends up killing one of them, in a way that felt disingenuous. This was only one part, and in the end it was the most memorable scene, so I can let it slide.
The DVD of Escape Room was a good buy. Special features includes a very informative director’s commentary, deleted scenes and bloopers. Escape Room is also available on all the major digital platforms through Lionsgate. Try not to confuse it with Escape Room (2018) directed by Peter Dukes. I have not seen that one, but who knows, maybe an Escape Room double feature is just the answer we horror fans need.
Curt Wiser is the Writer/Director of the suspense movie Cam-Girl. He is happy to put the puzzles aside to watch other people’s work and share them with the rest of the world.
Originally published at OC Movie Reviews.