In an era one step removed from some of the biggest horror franchises of recent times – Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street – we are now starting to collect some modern-day equivalents where our unstoppable “bad guy” has been replaced with something altogether more sinister: evil corporations and similar forces therein. Most notably, in The Purge (serendipitously also out this week) it’s the newly formed Founding Fathers, who believe a government-approved “cleanse” is the way to move society forward; whilst Escape Room, the latest to join the ranks of this fad, sees an evil organisation subject people to ever-elaborate and ever-bloody game rooms that many won’t escape from, also acting as something of a “sin cleanser” in some shape or form. The first was a notable success ($155million on a $9million budget) so, this being franchise/sequel nirvana for fans, you know what’s next and, surprisingly, it’s actually better than the first.
Ben (Logan Miller) and Zoey (Taylor Russell) survived. Scarred from what felt like a lifetime of imprisonment, they managed to solve and escape from the ever-increasing dangers of the Minos Corporation and their sadistic escape rooms. Determined, Zoey wants to bring down their evil reign of terror whilst Ben is overwhelmingly cautious, forever changed, left perpetually paranoid by his experiences, and wanting to leave their past experiences behind. Soon though, as their quest to bring about justice and prosecutions begins, they are launched headfirst into another round of rooms, dubbed “Tournament of Champions”, squashed in with previous winners Nathan (Thomas Cocquerel), Rachel (Holland Roden), Theo (Carlito Olivero) and Brianna (Indya Moore) as Minos’ hold over them continues to grow.
Adam Robitel, director of the first film, returns for the second go-around and, as with almost all sequels – especially with horror ones such as this – bigger is better, or at least that is the plan and, with ER: TOC he does just that: puzzles are harder, rooms are bigger, stakes are higher, traps are infinitely more dangerous and terrifying and, for the most part, it works. From the first moment the film begins, there’s certainly a sense of overbearing dread as our not-ready-for-escape-room players are dragged back in for another round of ever-increasingly outlandish set pieces that threaten to take them down one by one, and while that escalating silliness can’t be ignored, it’s fair to say that for the most part, we are kept firmly on the edge of our seat.
The ludicrous nature of some of the twists and turns leave a lot to be desired, more so as we get closer and closer to the grand finale, but as long as you set your brain to the right mode before going in, there is some strange, twisted joy to be had from all the nonsense that still favours the thrills rather than the spills. Beginning with an ambitiously realised electrically-charged train carriage that is arguably the peak of the film’s imagination, it’s followed by lasers, quicksand, and rain that is more of an otherworldly persuasion as it taunts those who enter them, all with the payoffs you would be expecting and some you won’t.
Indeed, it’s the psychological after-effects of the players’ first experiences with Minos and their dastardly plans that provide much of the film’s narrative backbone but isn’t explored nearly enough while the characters, albeit energetic and fun, are severely underserved. There are flashes in the first quarter of the film that the players’ mental, physical and emotional repercussions – anxiety, hallucinations, PTSD, trauma response – being felt after such a horrific experience but they are lost as the focus shifts firmly on the action inside the rooms rather than inside their bodies. A shame, but not all is lost in this barmy, hollow yet at times extremely entertaining romp.
Horror, Thriller | USA, 2021 | 15 | 16th July 2021 (UK) | Cinema | Sony Pictures Releasing | Dir. Adam Robitel | Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Holland Roden, Indya Moore, Carlito Olivero, Thomas Cocquerel