M and I are horror aficionados, and were pleasantly surprised with this 2019 offering. My first instinct when I have enjoyed a film is to check Empire for their invariably scathing review. This film did not fare well with the discerning male critics, and I do share some of their criticisms, but overall I thought this was a well wrought, impressively produced and tantalising piece of horror. The premise is this: six ostensibly random people meet and try to solve a series of escape rooms to obtain a prize of £10,000. It soon becomes apparent that they are in fact trying to survive.
After a flash-forward to a character in deep doo-doo, the set-up is a little mechanical, introducing us one by one to the (thinly drawn) key players as they are invited to the game via a little black box bearing the old Cannon films logo. So we meet shy but genius maths (physics, as it happens) student Zoey (Taylor Russell), cynical millennial Ben (Logan Miller), dedicated escape roomer Danny (Nik Dodani), scarred Iraq War vet Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), blue-collar trucker Mike (Tyler Labine) and smarmy financial whizz Jason (Jay Ellis). Empire
I’m afraid that the character depth in this film does not go much deeper than the above block quote. However, what the characters lack in dimension and depth is more than made up for in set design. Without spoiling each wondrous room for you, I shall concentrate my praise on one room only. This was the enormous bar room with an oversized jukebox playing a distorted version of Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’ on repeat. This bar was not as it seemed however, it was upside down! The escapees had to climb their way through the room and solve the riddle as the floor/ ceiling was falling away beneath them. This made for jaw dropping graphics but also thrilling watching.
I do not necessarily agree with Empire that the lack of character dimension sufficiently hampered the film so as to lower it to a 2* rating. This is to be expected of this type of horror. With the possible exception of the first Saw movie (horror icon James Wan’s co-directorial debut, please note), the character development and backstory are always secondary to the elaborate torture scenarios devised for them. Overall this was a fast paced, visually staggering offering to the altar of horror and I would be remiss not to recommend it to you. It is streaming on Netflix at the time of writing.