Thursday 18 October 2018

Escape Room (USA 2017: Dir Will Wernick)

With a title as generic as Escape Room, you could be forgiven for expecting a film full of reheated Saw-like thrills. In fact it's so generic, there was even another film of the same name released the same year. But it's not that one (which has Sean Young in it). It's this one.

Now I've had personal experience of being held in an escape room as part of a work team bonding day, so I feel I'm qualified to comment on the veracity of this movie. How it works is that a group of people are admitted to a closed and locked space, and through solving various puzzles via clues and objects placed around them, work out how to free themselves.

Sounds fun, right? Well the fun kind of depends on with whom you're playing the game. In the case of Escape Room the players aren't much fun at all - a group of entitled twenty somethings, who when we first meet them are larging it up in a swanky restaurant celebrating head of the pack Tyler's big three oh - they're so obnoxious they all hide their credit cards under a napkin and select one to take the hit for the entire meal. In a short establishing scene we've already seen how mean Tyler can be, when he disses a passing homeless guy from the safety of a car - his girlfriend Christen is clearly long suffering, and there's also a tension between the two hinting at Tyler's potential infidelity.

Christen surprises Tyler and the rest of the group with invitations to an escape room event (at $1000 dollars a pop, no less), and before they know it they're blindfolded and being driven to the location. "It does sound crazy but crazy sounds like a lot of fun," summarises one character. Of course in the next scene the group find themselves separated in different spaces within the facility- and must attempt to reunite and, well, escape.

How they find each other, via a set of clues and puzzles which gradually unlock doors and free up chastity belts (yep...) is quite interesting - if decidedly 'uncrazy' - but until the real menace kicks in at about the hour point, it feels like watching an episode of 'The Crystal Maze' with less Lycra. But as the movie progresses it becomes obvious that there's a shadowy architect behind the increasingly nasty games, and the object of the exercise transforms from 'will they get out in time?' to 'who will get out?' Oh and in Christen's case 'will someone ever give her a robe?'

Will Wernick is clearly less interested in making you feel for the characters in his film - they're pretty much ciphers for everything we're supposed to dislike in 21st century capitalist society (even a subplot involving Tyler's bit on the side fails to summon interest) - so he can't complain when the viewer cares little for the cast in 'peril' mode.The movie is neither as nasty as it possibly should be, or as exciting; budget limitations mean that while early scenes sustain the attention, the big tense stuff at the end feels cramped and underdeveloped, and the whole thing is basically overpolite and inconsequential.

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