The current craze for escape rooms – in which groups solve puzzles to be released – was bound to inspire a horror film, so it’s gratifying to discover that ‘Escape Room’ is more than just a cheap teens-in-peril cash-in. Six strangers – shy physics student (Taylor Russell), shelf-stacking slacker (Logan Miller), escape room addict (Nik Dodani), long-distance trucker (Tyler Labine), smarmy stockbroker (Jay Ellis) and Iraq war vet (Deborah Ann Woll) – receive mysterious invitations to an exclusive escape room, unaware of something else they have in common. At first, the apparent danger of the traps seems to be part of the experience – but before you can say ‘The figure in the painting is pointing at the book!’, the players realise that they’ll be lucky to escape with their lives.
Adam Robitel, director of 2014’s underrated supernatural horror ‘The Taking of Deborah Logan’, gets the blood pumping right from the off, trapping the audience in a room with one of the contestants as the walls close in, splintering furniture and shredding nerves with equal gusto. This scene acts as something of a spoiler for what follows, as we know – or think we know – who’s going to make it and who isn’t. But the tricksy screenplay stays one step ahead and is smart enough that, while the audience can’t participate in the physical puzzles – each staged as an elaborate and impressive set piece – it can still try to figure out what’s going on behind the screams.
There’s more than a measure of ‘Saw’ about the set-up, especially in the third act when it’s clear the stage is being set for sequels featuring the enigmatic ‘games master’ behind the fiendish puzzles. But as a stand-alone movie, it’s an effective extrapolation of the escape room principle, and a welcome addition to the small subgenre of horror films where people don’t act stupidly under extreme duress.