“No Escape Room,” the latest horror riff on the “escape room from Hell” theme, has the building blocks of a solid genre thriller.
Five people undertake a mysterious small town escape room experience. The puzzle-it-out clues are challenging as all get out and the house’s clockwork trapdoors, hollow walls and hidden recesses are given a workout.
But something supernatural starts to happen and…there IS no ESCAPE!
The best ways to botch that are failing to keep the cast’s energy up, set-up to set-up, letting them slow-walk something that by definition and design is a fast-paced “ticking clock” thriller. Pay more attention to the sets in wide shot than the imperiled characters in unnerving close-ups. Put more effort in the clues and clever ways designed to solve them (numbers written on the whirling blades of a ceiling fan, only decipherable is you can figure out what in the room might give you a strobe effect) than you do to pacing.
Pedestrian shot selection and editing finish off any sense of “urgency” that the story is meant to generate.
“No Escape Room” probably went wrong in the storyboard process. Pre-planning is a must for any shooting script. On a tiny budget with a tight schedule, as Hitchcock preached, a detailed shot-by-shot storyboard can ensure you get what you need for the editor to make your thriller just fly by.
The story? Disinterested, lip-glossed/phone-distracted teen (Jeni Ross) takes a day trip to the country with Dad (Mark Ghanimé). Horseback riding is out, a car breakdown leaves them in a small town which has a garage, a diner and apparently, an “escape room” in a Tudor style mansion outside the town limits.
Kathryn Davis plays the escape room nerd, the one who keeps saying “You guys are new to this” and who refuses to take what they find themselves going through at face value, all “part of the show.” Hamza Haq is her disinterested boyfriend and Dennis Andres plays the wild card, the guy who jokingly calls himself “a plant, part of the show,” but who isn’t.
“So is that a clue, or just really good ‘atmosphere?'”
They surrender their phones and set off on their hour-long quest to “free” five people who “disappeared” in the clutches of “The Inventor” long ago. And then weird stuff, seeing and hearing “echoes” of themselves in mid-escape, in future escape, in their death throes or what have you throws them off.
The lighting and set design and decor are striking. There’s a preview “movie” on 8mm celluloid that is properly surreal and creepy.
But the clues are more interesting than the deaths or near-death-experiences, the characters as thinly developed as they often are in such genre pictures and the resolution has a fillip meant to make us forget how drab and lifeless most of what preceded it was. It’s not terrible, just not up to snuff.
The best advice for getting out of this “Room” is don’t ever go in it.
MPA Rating: unrated, graphic violence
Cast: Jeni Ross, Mark Ghanimé, Hamza Haq, Kathryn Davis, Dennis Andrews and Brianna Barnes.
Credits: Directed by Alex Merkin, script by Jesse Mittelstadt.A Marvista Film on Netflix
Running time: 1:25