I hate escape rooms. Don’t get me wrong, I love mysteries (it’s part of the appeal of horror movies), but the thought of being locked in a room searching for contrived clues with a bunch of strangers does not sound like a good time to me. In fact, it kind of sounds like a unique brand of torture. I can see so much going wrong in a scenario like that. What if we get locked in for real? Or if I’m locked in with a psycho? What about if the game master falls asleep and there’s a fire or something? Yeah, no. Not my brand of fun.
With all that being said, I’m not surprised someone had the idea to take the premise of an escape room and make a horror movie out of it. But is the movie just a way to market off of this new craze or does it offer something new and refreshing to the horror genre?
A Spoiler-Free Synopsis
Escape Room tells the story of six strangers lured into the experience of a “new intense escape room adventure” with the promise of winning $10,000. As the game unfolds, it becomes clear that the escape rooms are really just death traps, all strategically designed for each player. One by one our group gets picked off as the rooms become increasingly elaborate and dangerous.
Escape Room Review (Minor Spoilers)
Alright, let’s get the obvious out of the way off rip. Saw. You’ve seen it, right? Well, if you go to Escape Room, you’re about to see the watered down and less suspenseful version. I know that sounds harsh, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not everyone likes the torture porn intensity of the Saw series and if you’re one of those people but you still like a good action/thriller, then maybe Escape Room is for you. I will say though, that the urge to compare the two movies doesn’t go away throughout the entire runtime. With every puzzle, every trap, every countdown to certain death, you can’t help thinking, “Wow, Jigsaw did this better.” And that’s because he did.
I’m not sure if it’s because of the size of the cast or what but none of the characters were fleshed out properly. They all seemed like caricatures of their prospective roles. Jay Ellis of Insecure fame plays the cut-throat dog eat dog Wallstreet douche, Taylor Russell plays our shy, quiet, but extremely intelligent final girl of the bunch and so on and so forth for the rest of the cast. What I am saying is that there was nothing shocking or revealing about any of the characters. Once we learned their stories and got an idea of what archetype they fit, they acted accordingly with no real change or arc. Basically, they were flat.
Another thing that got me about the movie was that it was a little on the predictable side. This might have to do with what I mentioned above about the characters but the plot itself was pretty lackluster. It seemed like a plot I’d seen dozens of times before with nothing new or fresh added to it, save the concept of an escape room. In fact, if you pay attention and use simple logic, you can probably even figure out the “twist” after the first room. I’ll give you a hint. Who or what would have enough money to build a six-room death trap maze complete with an ice lake and a room that becomes an oven? And why? Yeah, think on that.
Now just because I spent the last two paragraphs talking about Escape Room’s unoriginality and predictability does not mean I think the movie was bad. I actually don’t think that at all. I think it was a fun movie and had great cast. As I mentioned above, I was glad to see Jay Ellis onscreen doing something so different from his role on Insecure and I was happy to see Deborah Ann Woll returning to her horror roots with this movie. I also enjoyed the premise of an escape room gone bad. It’s relatable and hits close to home seeing as how there’s practically an escape room on every corner now. I just wish that the movie offered something original.
Black Final Girls – Unicorns Among Men
Another positive note (and this is where I finally get to talk about race and intersectionality in horror) lies with Taylor Russell’s character, Zoey. Zoey is where the movie finally does something I haven’t seen that often in horror—they gave us a black final girl. If you watch a lot of horror movies, then you know that black final girls are like unicorns. Rare. Precious. So, so, hard to catch. Are there black women in horror movies? Not as many as I would like, but sure, they are out there. Unfortunately, they are usually cast as the best friend or sacrifice number two in a slasher sequence. I want more Sanaa Lathans in Alien vs Predator. I want more Jada Pinketts in Demon Knight.
When it comes to black final girls though—black girls who are the last girls standing in a horror movie—the already low percentage decreases incredibly. Really, the true definition of a final girl is the last girl standing in a slasher movie. That means the girl who had faced the monster/slasher alone and lived. However, many people use this as an umbrella term for any girl alive at the end of a horror movie. And that is definitely what you have to do to include any black women on the list of final girls.
Off the top of my head, I can only think of two instances of black women who fit the true definition: Brandy Norwood in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and Bianca Lawson in Bones. But even they don’t really fit the true definition. Truly, Julie is the final girl in the I Know What You Did Last Summer series. As for Bianca Lawson’s character in Bones…well, let’s just say she doesn’t really make it out in one piece. There may be other black women who fit the traditional definition, but I can’t think of any.
My point about Zoey is that it was refreshing to see a black girl as the main character in a horror movie. It was great to see her be resourceful and grow from shy to confident as most final girls do in their arcs. I wish we could have more of that.
As for Escape Room, I can’t say that I recommend you go out and spend money on it. Whenever it hits Netflix though, go ahead and give it a watch on a rainy day. It’s worth at least that. Really though, if you want high intensity and original sick games, watch any of the first three Saw movies. Or if you really want something intense, watch 13: Game of Death. Whew! Talk about fucked up.
Check out the trailer for Escape Room here.
And the trailer for 13: Game of Death here.
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