ESCAPE ROOM **** USA 2019 Dir: Adam Robitel. 99 mins
Reflecting the growing popularity of actual escape rooms, there have been at least three recent horror / thriller movies with the title ESCAPE ROOM, though only this one has had a successful worldwide theatrical release. Starting with a frenetic ticking-clock opening death trap aggressively scored a la Charlie Clouser, this owes a debt to the SAW series, constructed as it is around a series of elaborate puzzles, each designed to cause at least one fatality – all orchestrated by omnipresent yet unseen puppet masters.
Its influences stretch back further, however, to David Fincher’s THE GAME and the underrated Marc Evans chiller MY LITTLE EYE. Taylor Russell is genuinely likeable as a shy, smart student haunted by an unspecified past trauma and advised to “do one thing that scares you” over the Thanksgiving break. This means joining five other strangers (among them the excellent Tyler Labine and Deborah Ann Woll) in the chance to win $10,000 via the “most immersive rooms yet” courtesy of Minos Escape Rooms. While CCTV camera document their every move, the group are faced with an increasingly deadly series of perils and learn of the shared trauma that connects them all. Director Adam Robitel graduated from one of the stand-out recent found-footage horrors (THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN) to the lucrative INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY, and here brings a sustained tension and wit to a clever, well-acted flick. The escalating escape rooms are executed with flair, including a harrowing DAMIEN: OMEN II-inspired sequence on an icy lake and a terrific set piece in an upside-down room with breakaway floors…and (gulp!) discomforting use of Petula Clark’s 1960’s classic “Downtown” on intense repeat. It may be the latest of many 21st century horror movies built around the theme of the internet age’s endless craving for ever more extreme thrills (and the corporations exploiting it), but it’s one of the most enjoyable.
Review by Steven West