Escape rooms are so in right now. They’re in for groups of friends looking for excitement. They’re popular with businesses looking for team-building fare. And most recently, they’re popular with movie studios.
We’ve already had a couple of low budget efforts, most notably the 2017 horror flick that’s currently on Netflix, starring nobody you’ve ever heard of and only achieving a modicum of notoriety. With a bigger budget and a stronger cast, not to mention a far tighter script, 2019’s Escape Room is more like a soft reboot for the Saw franchise, only without the gore and slightly less sadism.
It also owes a hefty debt to 1997’s Cube, the low budget horror that managed to make a single box-room set go a very long way.
Here, we’re introduced to a small group of people from very different backgrounds – there’s the flashy businessman (Jay Ellis), the war veteran (Deborah Ann Woll), the alcoholic kid (Logan Miller), the exposition-spouting geek (Nick Dodani), the average Joe (Tyler Labine) and the shy student (Taylor Russell).
They’re mysteriously invited to attend an escape room event, but before they can get to know one another, the game is afoot – and lives are on the line.
What follows is a pleasant surprise – yes, there’s the hint of Saw wafting through the plot and death is constantly hovering over the group. But this is an inventive tale of survival with each character’s backstory giving the events a sure foundation on which to build.
The cast play it straight but without overdoing it while the script offers enough in the background to keep things interesting and, crucially, characters do develop.
Daredevil’s Deborah Ann Woll as Amanda provides one of several identifiable leads but it’s Jay Ellis who stands out as Jason, the arrogant rich guy who slips between hero and villain from moment to moment. His charismatic turn here implies a bright future ahead.
All the good work is very nearly undone in the final moments as the movie sets itself up for further franchise opportunities, but ignoring Sony’s instance on prepping for sequels, this is bloody good popcorn fun. It’s not original, it’s not unique – but it gets everything right, and does it with commendable confidence.