Escape Room (2019)


Did someone say “Poseidon Adventure”?

(2019) Horror (Columbia) Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis, Tyler Labine, Deborah Ann Woll, Nick Dodani, Yorick van Wageningen, Cornelius Geaney Jr., Russell Crous, Bart Fouche, Jessica Sutton, Paul Hampshire, Vere Tindale, Kenneth Fok, Caely Jo Levy, Jamie-Lee Money, Jeremy Jess Boado, Carl Coetzee, Katheryn Griffiths, Gary Green, Raven Swart, Inge Beckmann. Directed by Adam Robitel

 

When a movie is dumped into a January release date, it could either be an Oscar-qualifying holdover looking to make a wide release (good), or a movie that the studio’s pretty sure is going to tank (bad). When it’s a horror movie, it generally means the studio thinks it can clean up against generally weak competition of Christmas holdovers and January bargain bin cinema.

Escape Room actually isn’t all that bad; it capitalizes on the escape room fad which was pretty much inevitable – Hollywood likes to capitalize on every fad. Escape rooms, for those not in the know, are group exercises in which a group is locked in a room and must solve clues scattered about the room to unlock the doors and escape. Normally, there’s a time limit. Normally, the room doesn’t kill anybody.

But this being a January-released horror movie, you know that’s not going to be the case here. The six contestants, lured by the prospect of a $10,000 payday if they solve the puzzle and escape, are an introverted math whiz (Russell), an alcoholic loser (Miller), a cocky businessman (Ellis), a PTSD-afflicted veteran (Woll), a truck driver (Labine) and a puzzle nerd (Dodani) who may as well have been called “Mr. Exposition.”

The cast is serviceable and at least commit to playing parts which are largely one-dimensional. The rooms themselves are lavish and fiendish; try and check any sort of logic at the door and you’ll be okay. For the most part this is mildly entertaining if you like this sort of thing, but hardcore horror fans are going to bemoan the lack of gore (another studio going for the PG-13 crowd) while thriller fans might find this too simplistic. It did well enough to generate a sequel whose release has been held up by the COVID-19 outbreak.

REASONS TO SEE: Reasonably entertaining.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very much “been there, done that.”
FAMILY VALUES: There is lots of violence and profanity, perilous action, some sexually suggestive material and a few grisly images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the second time that Robitel has directed the first nationwide release of a new year (he previously did in 2018 with Insidious: The Last Key).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/27/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 51% positive reviews, Metacritic: 48/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Saw
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Vanishing

Dave Made a Maze


The Tiki God of garbage gazes over his domain.

(2016) Fantasy Comedy (Foton) Nick Thune, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Stephanie Allynne, Adam Busch, Scott Krinsky, James Urbaniak, John Hennigan, Frank Caeti, Scott Narver, Kirsten Vangsness, Drew Knigga, Kamilla Alnes, Rick Overton, Timothy Nordwind, Etienne Eckert, Brittney Deutsch, Jessica Graves. Directed by Bill Watterson

The imagination can be a powerful thing. It can create entire worlds…entire realities. It can change one’s life in a heartbeat. Of course, it comes in real handy when making movies as well.

Dave (Thune) is one of those guys who just pisses away his life. He has a thousand ideas for things but he never follows them through to the end. As a result, as he hits 30 and wonders where his life is taking him, he feels a failure even though he has a beautiful girlfriend named Anna (Kumbhani) and a bunch of friends who think he’s cool.

One weekend, Anna is out of town on a business trip and Dave is bored out of his skull. He decides to construct a maze out of cardboard in the living room – an elaborate one. Like many projects that become obsessions, it takes on a life of its own.

When Anna arrives home, she discovers the maze in her living room and can find neither hide nor hair of Dave. Eventually she hears his voice calling from inside the cardboard creation. It turns out that he’s gotten lost in the maze. That sounds absolutely unbelievable but Dave insists that it is much bigger on the inside. Anna means to knock it down so he can get out but he begs her not to – he wants to finish something for once in his life.

He doesn’t want her to go in and get her either – a rescue mission is too dangerous as there are booby traps and trip wires. Nonetheless, Anna calls Dave’s best friend Gordon (Busch) and he calls a few other friends (despite being told explicitly not to) and soon there’s a party in Dave’s living room which includes power couple Greg (Nordwind) and Brynn (Allynne), ubernerd Jane (Vangsness), a random homeless guy (Overton), Harry (Urbaniak), a documentary film maker with his boom operator (Caeti) and camera operator (Narver) and a couple of Flemish tourists (Knigga and Alnes) and Leonard (Krinsky) who is just…Leonard.

They all go in after him and find a world they could never imagined; living origami, a Tiki God that spurts out living ribbon, rooms that evolve on their own and yes, a Minotaur (Hennigan) for good measure. Not everyone is going to make it out alive, but then again, not all of them were really living anyway.

I gotta hand it to first-time filmmaker Watterson – he has oodles of imagination. The production design here may be low-budget but it is absolutely captivating. The world of the maze isn’t like anything you’ve ever seen…well, most of it is anyway. The crew used 30,000 square feet of cardboard to construct the maze and…well, every penny is on the screen as some critics like to say.

Watterson also uses perspective as an additional effect to keep the viewer off balance, and he wisely refrains from using it overmuch. One of the things that encourage me about this new director is that he knows how to keep from being repetitive while remaining creative. That’s not as easy as it sounds.

Thune has plenty of charisma and likability in the lead role and I can see him building on this and getting some plum roles in the near future. Certainly performances like this will make him eligible for romantic comedy leads as well as straight comedies. Thune has a pretty rosy future.

There are a few faces here from TV, like Vangsness from Criminal Minds, Allynne from One Mississippi and Krinsky from Chuck but most of the others with the exception of Thune are largely not well known and Thune is known mostly for being a stand-up comic with appearances on stand-up shows and @Midnight.

Be warned though that in watching this you’re likely to suffer hipster overload. The movie is lousy with them and those who find them insufferable may find themselves heading for the exit. The soundtrack is full of indie rock and the male characters with beards. You may want to dose yourself with anti-hipster medicine before coming to see this.

That and an ending that doesn’t live up to the rest of the movie aside, this is a very strong entry in the ranks of indie films this year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get some distribution from one of the big indies. I have a feeling that this is going to be one of those movies that is going to show up in a lot of best of the year lists this year.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the most amazing production design you’ll see in a film this year. Thune is an engaging and earnest lead. Watterson has a good eye for perspective. One of the most imaginative films at this year’s Florida Film Festival.
REASONS TO STAY: Hipster overload. The ending is a tad weak.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The director is not related to the cartoonist of the same name who created Calvin & Hobbes.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/23/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cool World
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: For Ahkeem