Movie Review ~ Escape Room

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Six strangers find themselves in circumstances beyond their control, and must use their wits to survive.

Stars: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Nik Dodani, Jay Ellis

Director: Adam Robitel

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  It’s the time of year when we are past the season to be jolly and across the Oscar hopeful finish line of prestige pictures trying to make their end of the year release date cutoff.  Now we’re into January, a month commonly known in Hollywood when studios will push their less than desirable products into theaters either hoping they will go away quietly or praying for a small miracle and have them catch fire with audiences and make them a buck or two.  Over the last few years the films that tend to do the best are low impact horror thrillers that are good for a jolt or two and quickly forgotten.

So it’s indeed a perfect time for Sony to release Escape Room, their modestly budgeted and mostly forgettable time waster thriller.  Though it boasts a good director that has shown he knows a thing or two around this genre and a concept filled with intriguing opportunities, it winds up being a strictly mediocre effort that sacrifices early hints of creativity for a messy finale that fails to deliver. It’s not that good but if I’m being totally honest it’s also not that bad.

Opening with my least favorite plot device, introducing a character in a dire situation and then flashing back “three days earlier”, Escape Room gathers six disparate strangers vying to win $10,000 if they can solve a new escape room that’s come to Chicago.  Though it appears they have nothing in common, over the next 100 minutes we’ll learn why they were chosen and how it came to be they are involved in a game that gets more deadly the deeper they go into the labyrinthine rooms.  Their weaknesses become their strengths and their paranoias become their downfall as each one faces their fears that pop up in a variety of ways.

Those familiar with the Saw series or the cult classic Cube will find a lot of common threads here and Escape Room starts to feel like a Frankenstein monster of better movies the longer it goes on.  Those movies at least had a concept that had an endgame, though, and it becomes clear around the halfway mark that screenwriters Bragi Schut and Maria Melnik may have had a beginning and end sketched out but failed to come up with enough twists and turns to keep the audience off balance.  I kept waiting for the film to take a different path than what was expected but it kept motoring on with no surprises along the way.  Even the escape rooms themselves start out with interesting clues to solve but gradually get less and less creative as the group moves forward and their numbers start to dwindle.

Director Adam Robitel gave us The Taking of Deborah Logan, one of my absolute favorite horror films of the last ten years as well as last January’s Insidious: The Last Key.  It’s clear he possesses a style that works well in this genre but there’s less focus here on the substance to go with that polish.  There’s also an extreme problem with the likability of the cast.  Aside from Taylor Russell as a mousy brainiac and Deborah Ann Woll’s (Ruby Sparks) haunted veteran, none of the other cast members seem worth keeping around, especially annoying grocery store burnout Logan Miller (Love, Simon)

Yet the movie moves swiftly without wasting unnecessary time in one location for too long.  This notorious watch checker was surprised to see the first time he looked at his timepiece was 90 minutes into the film.  Unfortunately, that’s when the film lost me in a major way with a bizarre denouement and even stranger stinger that didn’t feel like it matched up with the rest of the action.  It felt like a studio mandated add-on to keep the door open for future sequels.  Up until that point the movie had played mostly by the rules but then it seemed to toss out logic and reason in favor of extending the story past the closing credits.  I wish the filmmakers had spent more time rounding out the rough edges of this movie before laying the groundwork for another.

With movies like Aquaman, Mary Poppins Returns, and Bumblebee still easily occupying the top slots at the box office, Sony is hoping Escape Room might find a foothold with audiences that just want to sit back and not have to think too hard over what’s passing in front of their eyes on screen.  Escape Room fits that bill and should easily make its money back in its first weekend.  I’d say it’s one that you could hold off on catching in theaters, though, and put on your list for a rainy day at-home selection.

31 Days to Scare ~ Escape Room (2019) – Trailer

Synopsis: Six strangers find themselves in circumstances beyond their control, and must use their wits to survive.

Release Date: January 4, 2019

Thoughts: Even if Escape Room has a concept that feels like a less extreme version of what was first cooked up in the Saw films, I have to say this teaser trailer definitely has me intrigued.  Over the past few years escape rooms have popped up all over the country to growing popularity so it seems natural that sooner or later someone would play off of the confusion and frustration of these diabolical rooms.  I’ve been in several and if there was a horror movie made of my experience it would just be 60 minutes of me growing frustrated while trying to unlock a safe that has nothing in it.  I have confidence in director Adam Robitel who gave us the freaky gift The Taking of Deborah Logan and helmed Insidious: The Last Key, and Escape Room feels like it could be the jumping off point for a clever new franchise.

Movie Review ~ Insidious: The Last Key

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier faces her most fearsome and personal haunting yet – in her own family home.

Stars: Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Josh Stewart, Caitlin Gerard, Kirk Acevedo, Javier Botet, Bruce Davison, Spencer Locke, Tessa Ferrer, Ava Kolker, Marcus Henderson

Director: Adam Robitel

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 103 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: By the time a franchise gets around to its third sequel, there’s a definite formula that’s been developed, a ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ vibe, if you will.  As derivative as it may seem artistically, unfortunately all movie studios care about is the bottom line and as long as audiences continue to come out in droves with their cash handy, they’ll keep making the same movie over and over again.  That’s what’s been so interesting about the Insidious films; they’ve all followed the same pattern and have similar beats to hit but they wind up being more entertaining than they have any right to be.  After two successfully entries the series ventured into prequel territory for it’s third outing and this new film is a sequel to that prequel.

While it doesn’t tread any new ground, Insidious: The Last Key proves worthy as connective tissue from Insidious: Chapter 3 to the original Insidious (let’s just leave Insidious: Chapter 2 far out of the conversation, shall we?) and it’s largely due to supporting player turned star Lin Shaye (A Nightmare on Elm Street) appearing once more as medium Elise Rainer.  The other three films have benefited from her presence but she’s truly the central figure of screenwriter and co-star Leigh Whannell’s latest episode.

Opening with a prologue set in the ‘50s, we meet Elise as a child living with her parents and brother in their creepy house next to a maximum-security prison.  Every time the lights flicker it’s a signal another death row inmate has met his maker via electric chair but that’s the least of the worries this family has.  Elise can see ghosts and while she’s encouraged to embrace it by her supportive mother, her alcoholic father (Josh Stewart, Interstellar) fears his child that can seemingly communicate with the dead and punishes her when her gifts emerge.  Charmed by an evil entity into freeing it from its basement confines, Elise unwittingly brings a malevolent force into her family which sets into motion events that will haunt her for the rest of her life.

Picking up in 2010, Elise is contacted by a man now living in her old house.  Strange events have started up again and she takes his invitation as an opportunity to exorcise (literally) her childhood traumas and reconnect with her brother (Bruce Davison, The Lords of Salem) who has a family of his own, including two daughters played by Magic Mike’s Caitlin Gerard and Spencer Locke.  As she explores her house (always, I should add in the dead of night armed with a small flashlight and never during the day) she comes face to face not only with secrets from her past but a freaky figure we come to know as KeyFace (Javier Botet, IT).

After the first two films were directed by James Wan (The Conjuring) and the previous entry directed by Whannell, I was encouraged to see a new face in the director chair this go around.  Director Adam Robitel wrote and directed the real horror gem The Taking of Deborah Logan a few years ago so I was interested to see what he brought to the franchise.  Turns out Robitel brings a more grounded approach to the film and while that doesn’t always work for a vehicle that’s supposed to be an all-out scare machine, his approach feels right at this late stage.  These are characters we’re all familiar with, so let’s take some time to get to know them between the scares.

That’s good news for Shaye who shines even when she’s navigating clunky dialogue and playing the straight man to her goofy sidekicks played by Whannell (Cooties) and Angus Sampson (Mad Max: Fury Road).  Both of these oddballs provided some interesting comic relief in the first film but have steadily gotten broader with each passing entry, much to the overall detriment of any kind of mood everyone is trying to create.  Davison looks like he’s thinking of what he’s going to buy with his paycheck while Gerard and Locke are passable as characters that might pick up the psychic torch from their aunt.

This feels like a good way to round off the rough edges of this series that started strong, dipped, and then leveled off.  It misses a few opportunities to go deeper and actually is missing creepy scenes shown in the trailer.  I found it interesting that while Elise’s haunted house is next to an imposing abandoned prison, we never get a look inside the derelict penitentiary. It’s worth seeing it with a large audience that’s there to have fun.  The screams at my screening were as entertaining as the film itself, especially the woman that yelled out ‘Gosh DARN it’ after a particularly nasty scare. There are a few interesting curveballs thrown in and it’s packed with enough jump scares to satisfy your post-holiday cravings.  Just remember: it’s not art, it’s the fourth entry in the Insidious series.