Monday, January 07, 2019

Escape Room

The thing about having a blog like this one or being the movie guy at the office is that, when someone asks you what you think of a movie like Escape Room and you basically say, "eh, it's fine", they're going to take that as some sort of condemnation or sign that you've got some sort of elitist tastes, especially if they eventually draw more out of you and the stuff you like is kind of vague and subjective (it's a pretty good cast, most of whom could go on to bigger things!) while the stuff you didn't like is more specific (this thing kind of contradicts that thing and the filmmakers don't do a great job of using the action to emphasize the emotion and vice versa). But here's the thing: While Sturgeon's law of "90% of everything is crap" often holds, of the chunk that gets through the industry's various quality filters, something like 75% is within a standard deviation of average. You can't get excited one way or another about everything.

And the truth is, what a relatively minor wide release like Escape Room can do these days is pretty amazing; the production is fairly elaborate and the cast is pretty good. Folks making B-movies a generation ago would probably be astounded by this, but there's so much of it between theaters, Netflix, and stuff that hits the genre film festival circuit and then gets picked up by a small distributor that gets a VOD deal, that it's easy to take this for granted.

Truth be told, the thing that sticks with me the most is that it's a movie with characters named "Jason" and "Danny", and the "hey, neat coincidence" of both me and a brother having our names in the same film can be a bigger deal than anything else in the movie when the rest is otherwise average.

Escape Room

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 January 2018 in AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run, DCP)

For a movie opening in the early-January dumping ground, Escape Room is surprisingly competent. That is, obviously, a bit of damning with faint praise, especially since it's only a few months before people find it on streaming services and have no expectations based upon award-season and holiday cycles. They'll just see a thriller that chews up a hundred minutes without misstepping often enough to spoil anything.

The concept is pretty straightforward: Six people in the Chicago area - bright but shy college student Zoey (Taylor Russell), rise-and-grind executive Jason (Jay Ellis), shaggy supermarket stockboy Ben (Logan Miller), army veteran Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), gaming enthusiast Danny (Nik Dodani), and affable truck driver Mike (Tyler Labine) - get invitations to test out Minos Entertainment's newest escape room experience, though only Danny knows how the things work (clues, puzzles, themes). This one, they quickly discover, is potentially lethal. Not only that, but bits of it seem to be specifically designed to play upon their anxieties and experiences.

It's a basic high-concept thriller plot; few people in the audience for this haven't seen a movie where seemingly innocent games turn deadly (heck, it's almost a trend, with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Game Night both in theaters over the past year). There are lots of directions one can go with that, with director Adam Robitel and writers Bragi F. Schut & Maria Melnik opting for the most straightforward, running the group through a series of dangerous scenarios without a whole lot of subtext or complication to it. That's fine, for the most part - the production design team comes up with a lot of nice visuals for the deathtraps, and Robitel does pretty well showing the characters solving their problems visually with relatively minimal exposition. He and the writers don't try to add excess romantic subplots or too many twists (for the most part). It's a relief not seeing anything prioritized over survival.

Full review at EFC.

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