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

Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in)


Let the Right ONe In
Lina Leandersson is a bloody mess.

(2008) Horror (Magnet) Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Karin Berqquist, Peter Carlberg, Ika Nord, Mikael Rahm, Karl-Robert Lindgren, Anders T. Peedu, Pale Olofsson, Cayetano Ruiz, Patrick Rydmark, Rasmus Luthander. Directed by Tomas Alfredson

The dark winter sky twinkling with stars above a suburban community covered in a blanket of pristine white snow. The perfect setting for a Christmas tale? In this case, the perfect setting for a vampire story.

Oskar (Hedebrant) lives in a suburb of Stockholm in the early 1980s. His parents are going through a bitter divorce and he is getting bullied at school relentlessly by Conny (Rydmark). He has no friends, no real relationships and is as lonely as a 12-year-old boy can get. His idea of fun is taking a toy knife his father (Dahl) gave him and fantasizing about using it on his tormenters.

That is how Eli (Leandersson) finds him, in the snow-covered courtyard of the apartment complex, playing with his knife. She’s a strange little girl, unnaturally pale, walking barefoot in the snow and seemingly wise well beyond her years. She resists having a friendship with him at first but eventually gives in. She lives with Hakan (Ragnar), a middle-aged man that Oskar assumes is her father and their apartment windows are covered with cardboard. Eli is never around during the day. Spoiler alert (kind of): Eli’s a vampire who has been 12 years old for two centuries, give or take.

When Oskar shows up with a cut on his cheek, Eli prods him to discover what happened and finds out about the bullying. She urges him to stand up for himself and as a result, he signs up for weight training classes after school.

Hakan has murdered a local resident for his blood but fails to deliver the plasma to Eli. She goes out and kills Jocke (Rohm), another apartment resident who was on his way home from a bar and drinks his blood. Hakan drops the body in a nearby lake. Unfortunately, this is the same lake that Oskar’s school takes a field trip to and the body is discovered. It is also the same day Oskar stands up to Conny, beating him with a stick when Conny attempts to bully him.

By now Oskar has discovered that Eli is a vampire and far from being frightened is somewhat curious and actually a little pleased that his new friend is so unusual. Their feelings for each other are getting stronger. However, Hakan has botched another attempt at getting blood for Eli and in order to save her from being traced back to him, he pours acid over his face, severely disfiguring himself. Back at the hospital he offers his own blood for Eli to drink which she does, killing him after which he plunges through the window to his death, giving Eli an effective distraction with which to escape.

Eli attacks Ginny (Nord), the girlfriend of Jocke’s best friend Lacke (Carlberg) but is interrupted by Lacke before she can finish feeding. Ginny begins to transform into a vampire herself. Realizing what’s happening, she asks a hospital attendant to open the blinds. The sunlight streams in and she bursts into flame.

Lacke, having seen who was responsible for Ginny’s attack and putting two and two together, resolves to bring her to justice. Conny’s psychotic brother Jimmy, incensed and embarrassed that a pipsqueak like Oskar had gotten the best of his brother, has a trap in mind. Can the two unlikely friends protect each other?

This is one of the best horror movies of the 21st century, so let’s just start out with that. It is also one of the best vampire movies ever made. It was remade into an Americanized version called Let Me In that was part of last year’s Six Days of Darkness and was a solid film in its own right. However, those who have seen both will tell you that the original Swedish version is amazing.

This is visual poetry folks, with stark Swedish landscapes punctuated by odd splashes of red and orange. Even the interiors have a curiously washed-out look (which is not what Swedish homes and apartments look like). This grim, grey, colorless cinematography is perfect; it is death and it is cold.

This is a movie that rests largely on the skills of its juvenile leads and the two young actors, found after a year-long search, fit the bill. Hedebrant has a weird looking haircut that would instantly mark him as a target for getting picked upon no matter what era he lived in. He shows the socially awkward side of Oskar, as well as the admirable qualities that make him worth rooting for.

Leandersson’s Eli is preternaturally beautiful and has a sexuality that is unusual in a girl so young. In the novel that this is based on, the Eli character is actually a boy who was castrated at the age of 12 shortly before becoming a vampire. Here that distinction is less clear; the filmmakers leave that sexuality ambiguous which to readers of the book is a nice little aside.

I can’t recommend this highly enough for any fans of horror films. The violence and blood probably won’t sit well with the Twilight series fan base but I think the relationship between Eli and Oskar, which the filmmakers wisely focus in on, is what makes this movie so special.

WHY RENT THIS: One of the best horror movies in years not to mention one of the best vampire movies ever. Tremendous performances by the young cast. Visual poetry.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The scenes of Eli feeding are extremely graphic and might be disturbing; Eli’s sexuality might be off-putting to sensitive souls as well.

FAMILY VALUES: The violence and blood is pretty extreme. There’s also some sexuality and brief nudity as well as some pretty messed-up and disturbing images, not to mention a few bad words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The title of the movie (and the novel on which it is based) is a reference to the Morrissey song “Let the Right One Slip In.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $11.2M on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking this was very successful, box office-wise.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Margin Call