The first "Escape Room" film dropped with little fanfare back in January of 2019. But the low-budget teen-friendly horror film - capitalizing on the growing popularity of "escape rooms" across the country - was a modest hit, grossing over 150 million worldwide, having been made for under 10 million.
It's star, Taylor Russell, was relatively unknown - and she still is - but Russell is an absolute A-list star in-the-making (mark my words). Her likability and talents raised that first film above other throw-away teen horror films, and her continued presence in this sequel has elevated "Escape Room" to one of the most unlikely, yet entertaining, original IP franchises-in-the-making in recent years.
"Escape Room: Tournament of Champions" opens with a flashback sequence that is basically a "Previously On..." segment...apparently, the filmmakers are just as surprised as you are that anyone might have actually seen the first film. Zoey (Russell) and her now best-friend Ben (Logan Miller) have survived the deadly escape rooms presented to them in the first film, but Zoey is still haunted by them. Whoever was responsible disappeared without a trace, and Zoey now regularly sees a therapist (Lucy Newman-Williams) since pretty much everybody thinks that her stories are pretty implausible and ridiculous...like, we're supposed to believe that there is a massive underground criminal organization that sets up escape rooms that result in mass deaths, and nobody has ever picked up on the scent?
If you've been living under a rock over the last decade, the "escape room" industry is now a multi-million dollar global industry. The premise is that you are placed in a room, usually themed, and you have a set amount of time to try to "find a way out," by solving intricate puzzles and/or riddles. In real-life, this can be a fun (or frustrating, in some cases) night out with a loved one or friends, and several companies have used escape rooms as team-building exercises, since communication, teamwork and fun are the key ingredients to "escaping."
At the end of the previous film, Zoey and Ben were only left with a lead: Coordinates to a location in New York, where the mysterious "Minos" organization might be operating out of. They travel there, only to soon discover they have fallen right back into another one of Minos's deadly traps...only this time, they find themselves with a group of others, all of whom who - like Zoey and Ben - had previously been the lone survivors of their respective escape rooms. Somewhat of a "Tournament of Champions," if you will.
The first "Escape Room" was disposable fun, and the second is more of the same, meant in the best possible way. The stakes have been raised, and instead of there being a learning-curve as to what the team is up against, we're now dealing with some of the best-of-the-best. Zoey, Ben, and their new companions find themselves trapped in an electrified subway car, a quicksand beachfront, and a New York City street corner simulation where acid rain pours down on them every 60-seconds.
Director Adam Robitel - who also directed the first "Escape Room" film - creates and sustains a level of tension that will make you squirm in your seats...its like pulling a rubber band apart slowly, but never letting it snap. It taps into the fun and popularity of actual escape rooms, where you feel the pressure of having to think up against a time limit, but that thrill - much like a haunted house but one where your choices dictate the outcome - is in the chase. Robitel puts us right in the room with them, providing us with the clues we need at precise moments for maximum suspense, without ever feeling manipulative, or repetitive. If you like puzzles or going to escape rooms yourself, it's hard to understand why you wouldn't like the Escape Room movies.
It's also a great choice to keep the movie right in the PG-13 lane. While the scenes can be quite harrowing at times, there is not egregious violence or gore, which is also a huge factor in how the first film found success, and makes it accessible to a wider audience.
Not to belabor the point, but Russell makes it all worth enduring. Look, this isn't Shakespeare or Academy Award-caliber stuff, but it's quite refreshing to see a movie that knows what it is and just excels at that one thing. There isn't a comparable teen franchise at this moment, and "Escape Room: Tournament of Champions" is another solid chapter in what could be a series that goes on for quite some time. Like all escape rooms, they're only as fun as the next room and they must continue to challenge us. Robitel and company might need to expand things moving forward if they want to keep us engaged. But for now, these films are offering some great escapism, no pun intended.
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Action.
Run Time: 1 hour 28 minutes.
Starring: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Thomas Cocquerel, Holland Roden, Indya Moore, Carlito Olivero, Lucy Newman-Williams.
Directed by Adam Robitel ("Escape Room (2019)," "Insidious: The Last Key," "The Taking of Deborah Logan").
"Escape Room: Tournament of Champions" is in theaters on Friday, July 16th, 2021.
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