Several years ago, in early 2019, Escape Room premiered, captured our love of puzzle-filled rooms, and combined it with the horror trope of slowly eliminating strangers one-by-one...
...The film did well for a PG-13 horror movie and Escape Room 2 was expecting a summer release until most movies went on hiatus. But Will Wernick, one of the producers of Escape Room, didn’t let this scheduling hiccup stop him. Instead, he decided to write and direct his own version of the subgenre. Escape room horror comes in many shapes and sizes, from The Game (1997) to the Saw series, to the even lesser known Beyond the Seventh Door (1987). Wernick’s No Escape contains elements of all of the above-mentioned films, with a little Hostel thrown in for fun.
The premise of the movie begins when a Logan Paul inspired character with too much money meets a guy (Ronen Rubinstein) with even more money. What will all these people do with such a ridiculous supply of cash, you ask? Obviously, they take expensive flights to faraway lands and film people performing absurd and dangerous stunts. Cole, (Keegan Allen, Pretty Little Liars) a vlogger with ten years of experience asks his fans to choose what wild and crazy adventure he should film for the anniversary of his online career. Dash (George Janko) serves as the mastermind behind the plan and convinces Cole, his girlfriend Erin (Holland Roden), best friend Thomas (Denzel Whitaker), and other friend Sam (Siya) to make their way to Russia for the ultimate escape room which claims to be “like no other.” The build up to the actual escape room plays out like any “bros gone wild” type vlog with all the men drinking excessively and getting into dangerous situations (which they later laugh off). Part of the first act also provides a look into the more human side of Cole. Erin, in voice-over, explains her boyfriend’s dual nature. On camera he lives for attention and anything flashy, but when alone he holds normal conversation and proves to be an attentive partner.
Dash justifies the trip across the world by saying the escape room boasts certain qualities that set it apart from other, similar attractions. First, invite only! The average person cannot find the building and apparently you need a significant amount of money to play. Second, the puzzles and themes of the house change for each group who goes through. So no one can reveal secrets, I guess. And finally, once you complete the house you cannot return. Super rich friend Alexei (Rubenstein) claims he conquered the escape room but remains envious of Cole because unfortunately Alexei may never return to participate.
Entering the escape room begins act two and the story, character, and tone changes for the better. Let me set the scene for you. The door of the building closes and Cole now finds himself locked inside a Bolshevik prison with one hour to escape and save his friends. And the grossness starts right away; the very first puzzle involves an icky amateur autopsy. Every idea and move Cole can think of in the game is live streamed to his numerous fans, so even though alone, we get the innerworkings of his mind as he narrates his actions for the camera.
Each jail cell contains one of Cole’s friends, trapped in various types of torture devices and relying on the puzzle-solving skills of guys who still think “this is just a game” for their successful escape. The tension builds as the director plays with the fear of drowning, electrocution, and—the torture technique that makes me squirm the most—getting stabbed in the eye. However, paired with the tension comes a great deal of frustration (just like real-life escape rooms) and you might find yourself yelling at the characters to “solve faster!”. The escape room scenes are the best part of the film and I wish the director spent less time developing characters or building up the twist-ending and focused more on the ‘game’.
Each act definitely comes with its own set of emotions and tones, and your opinions of Cole will change as the film progresses through them, but the character development never quite reaches a level where you actually care about the protagonist and his friends. The escape room creates some adrenaline-fueled moments, but the third act cannot continue the momentum and even murder will not excite you in the end. Some horror fans want to connect with the victims. Other fans just want a good old-fashioned torture porn. However, while No Escape makes admirable attempts at fulfilling audience’s need for character and gore, the film cannot put the pieces together.
No Escape comes to VOD/Digital from Vertical Entertainment September 18th.
By Amylou Ahava
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