Don't get trapped in Escape Room

The movie's twist coda feels dreary and pro forma

By Glenn Kenny/The New York Times News Service
  • Published 1.02.19, 8:08 PM
  • Updated 1.02.19, 8:08 PM
  • a min read
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Deborah Ann Woll, Taylor Russell, Tyler Labine, Logan Miller in a scene from Escape Room Image: A still from the film

I tend to esteem motion pictures more for their aesthetic value than for their use value but sometimes there are exceptions. Through scrupulous and heightened simulations of terrifying reality, last year’s First Man reminded me why I never even entertained the notion of becoming an astronaut.

Taking the opposite tack with an irrational but not altogether implausible conceit, Escape Room reminds me why I’ll never engage in the newfangled form of entertainment in which you allow yourself to be “trapped” in a room and puzzle-solve your way out of it.

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The conceit is that this movie’s game masters absolutely intend to kill the six invitees who at first find themselves in a waiting area that turns into a people-cooking oven. The players, mostly adult but still Breakfast Club-ish, include a female war veteran, an overachieving but friendless collegian, a dirtbag grocery stock boy and a too-pragmatic finance guy.

The screenwriters Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik and the director Adam Robitel steer this not-all-that-intriguing crew through a series of challenges, in spaces that the production designer Edward Thomas clearly enjoyed putting together. (The upside-down bar is particularly gnarly, especially once the ceiling panels start dropping out.) The puzzles aren’t constructed in a way that gives the viewers any sort of whack at them; we merely watch as the characters solve or don’t solve them, then start dying for real. There are intimations of Tales From the Crypt, Final Destination, The Game, and other older, better films here; this movie never catches a fire like any of those did, and even its twist coda feels dreary and pro forma. But the movie is keeping me even further away from real-life escape rooms than I already had been.