‘Escape Room: Tournament of Champions’ Repeats Its Predecessor’s Formula and Keeps Hinting at a Greater Conspiracy

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Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (CREDIT: Sony Pictures)

Starring: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Indya Moore, Holland Roden, Thomas Cocquerel, Carlito Olivero, Deborah Ann Woll

Director: Adam Robitel

Running Time: 88 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Violence That Cuts Away From the Most Graphic Parts and Profanity Including One (1) F-Bomb

Release Date: July 16, 2021 (Theaters)

I mostly enjoyed Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, but I’m a little worried about what this franchise will be like by the time we get to Escape Room 2000: Ultra Super-Duper New ‘n’ Improved XTreme Tournament of Ninja Warriors, which will arrive much sooner than we’re prepared for. I’m rooting for our plucky heroes to take down the evil cabal behind the whole game, but the dictates of horror sequelization demand that it can never quite be defeated. So subsequent entries will surely be some combination of overly repetitive or increasingly ridiculous to justify the continuation. Tournament of Champions mostly repeats the formula established by the first Escape Room, while ostensibly inching ever so closer to the Big Bad Behind It All, and also ultimately mostly being about teasing the next chapter.

I wouldn’t be going through all this fretting if I were living in a post-Escape Room Cinematic World. If I could watch all of the theoretical absurd sequels in the comfort of home one right after the other, I could easily treat it as an anthropological excursion. Instead, I’m still motivated by my genuine hope that everything will work out for the plucky Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller), the survivors from the first go-round. Let’s call it the Nightmare on Elm Street Rule, wherein the relatively crappy latter-day sequels are mostly endearing if you watch them at least 20 years after they were released. That’s not to say that Escape Room has already reached that period with Tournament of Champions. It’s just that I can see The Inevitable, and it’s in my nature to get hung up on it.

But if I can pull myself back into the present for a moment, I can happily take in the vicarious thrills of a scrappy group puzzling out all these deadly traps. Both Escape Room flicks are basically PG-13-ified, less relentless versions of Saw. The tone is thereby one of cleverness and adrenaline, rather than gory sadism. In that vein, Escape Room also has a tendency to occasionally venture into the cheesy and overly cute, especially when Zoey and Ben miss some Major Clues that are right in front of their eyes. But that’s part of the charm! Honestly, I don’t think I would have it any other way. (Hey, maybe I’ve already learned to stop worrying and love the Silliness of It All…)

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is Recommended If You Like: Horror movie franchise churn

Grade: 3 out of 5 Clues

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Escape Room’ Makes Immersive Puzzles Fun and Unsettling

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CREDIT: David Bloomer/Sony Pictures Entertainment

This review was originally published on News Cult in January 2019.

Starring: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, Nik Dodani

Director: Adam Robitel

Running Time: 109 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Disorientingly Perilous Action, Traumatic Flashbacks, and Inadvertent Drug Use

Release Date: January 4, 2019

Depending on where you’re coming from, Escape Room is arriving either ten years too late or right on schedule. The real-life escape room craze is still going strong, if TV shows as diverse as Conan and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are to be believed. From that perspective, Escape Room the film is cannily capitalizing on a current trend. But considered from a cinematic context, the Saw series already set the template a decade ago (and now even exists in its own escape room form). But that is not exactly the highest standard. Thus, Escape Room, which renders immersive puzzle spaces actually deadly, has plenty of space to make its mark as a solid piece of entertainment for those who do not have the stomach for torture porn.

That is not to say that Escape Room is a pleasant watch, especially for anyone claustrophobic enough to find the entire concept of escape rooms frightening enough in the first place. It has a cruel streak, though it is tempered by a consistent preference for hope (or at least the illusion of it). Where Saw was often gross and off-putting while occasionally trying to say something about human nature, Escape Room is tightly engineered but also unsettling in just how random it ultimately is. The six people who have been chosen for this challenge all have a past as the lone survivors of deadly accidents, including drunk driving, an IED blast, and carbon monoxide poisoning. While the escape room has been designed with their histories in mind, that concept may have everything or nothing to do with who makes it out alive. The (possibly sequel teeing-up) ending is effective as a gut punch saying that this whole game is actually a “no escape” room. But the whole movie has a feeling of meaninglessness that is somewhat frightening but also the sign of a screenplay with limited subtext.

That said, while Escape Room‘s themes and motivations are never fully clear, it was successful at holding my attention, and I suspect that many audiences will feel the same. The designs of each section of the escape room are ingenious feats of engineering, from a lobby that turns into an oven to an upside-down pool bar. It also helps that each of the characters generally act to the top of their intelligences, making this an engaging battle of wits. We also get at least two different kinds of comic relief, with Tyler Labine as the goofy uncle type and Nik Dodani (best known as Murphy Brown’s new social media director) as the escape room enthusiast who realizes too late how real the threat is. The whole thing is fluffy, but enough to make you think twice about playing any more interactive games.

Escape Room is Recommended If You Like: Actual escape rooms probably, plus the Saw and Final Destination series

Grade: 3 out of 5 Unlocked Doors