Adam Robitel’s Escape Room posits that we are all hermetically sealed in our own isolation chambers, locked within man-made structures of guilt, self-doubt, and despair, listening, recounting, and mentally relitigating the same tired series of traumatic events that cripple us into complacency. Or at least it’s what the film tries to suggest. This is a film that requires a pretty endless series of mental acrobatics to make sense of, whether it be the inanity of its plotting or the skull-clutching awkwardness of its performers reciting banal, hackneyed platitudes from a screenplay that would seem amateurish to even a SyFy network executive. Welcome to the cinematic dregs of January, this film would seem to announce.
The flimsy premise by which Escape Room operates involves a coterie of men and women forced to reckon with their personal demons as they navigate through five different escape rooms, each engineered to touch upon the character’s apprehensions and grief. I could mention the various actors and what their characters specifically offer to the tableau of suffering that the film strives to suggest, but I’ll save them the embarrassment. Rather, each character is confined to a logline set of traits that writers Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik present in bold ALL-CAPS, underscored and neon-highlighted ad nauseam. What we gather is that our cadre is composed of survivors, each coping with the guilt of living, with their self-destructive tendencies uniting them. But there’s something disingenuous and exceedingly manipulative in the way these anxieties and preoccupations are examined, particularly provided that they are all in service to a plot that places more value in the shock of looming death (none more tasteless than an EKG sequence) rather than the value of living itself.
But there’s no masking the intentions of Escape Room. It establishes itself as a tacky reworking of two tacky series (Saw and Final Destination) and pays lip-service to saying anything especially profound or even remotely interesting. It’s mindless while somehow attempting to be mindful, as if simply acknowledging the most jejune, fundamentally broad anxieties of human suffering makes it fine to exploit them for cheap thrills. This is a tremendously awful film, so fundamentally boneheaded in its examination of grief, in an exercise that limns profundity by mimicking other better films, yet lacks the backbone to go further with its absurd premise. Or, in essence and with very few exceptions: your prototypical first week of January release.