January is here. It’s cold, the days are short and the nights are long, which means it’s the perfect time for low key fare and low cost horror movies. It’s become a tradition for studios looking to make a quick buck by launching their scary films during the cold, lonely winter evenings. “Escape Room” is a high concept thriller that’s full of suspense, but doesn’t have many actual scares.
A half dozen people, each with their own secrets, are invited to take part in an escape room game with the opportunity to win $10,000 if they succeed. As the individuals gather in the nondescript building, they quickly learn that they might be in over their heads. But to stay alive, they must work together to solve the puzzles within each scenario.
“Escape Room” feels like it could have fit into the “Saw” movie franchise with its elaborate puzzles that are specifically designed to pick the players off one-by-one on their journey through the different rooms. However, it takes some of the characters much longer to believe their lives are in danger than it really should.
Director Adam Robitel (“Insidious: The Last Key”) is adept at creating suspense as the characters figure their way through each trap in the nick of time. Rejecting jump scares, “Escape Room” will have more rewatchability as the tension will live on longer than a one time fright. Robitel gives the audience a chance to catch their breath as each set piece changes before cranking it back up again.
The actors are all more than game, making the most of what they are given. But screenwriters Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik, veterans of TV, aren’t interested in fleshing out the character beyond their given stereotypes. Each of the character descriptions could be typed out on a note card that you might receive during a murder mystery game. They serve as much as plot devices as they do actual characters.
With a svelte running time of just 95 minutes, the filmmakers are blatant about their expectations. The ending of the film is extended as a way to set up a sequel, or possibly a full-on franchise. Even with a genre as sequel prone as the horror genre, a more subtle approach would have felt less like they were putting the cart before the horse.
Despite a lack of actual character development, “Escape Room” is probably more fun than it has any business being. To be sure, it’s a forgettable film that won’t end up becoming a revered classic. But Robitel and his actors have created an enjoyable ride that you won’t want to escape once it starts.