I love being surprised when I discover what I thought would be a mediocre-looking film I could fall asleep to ends up being something I’d genuinely recommend to my friends.
Not to be confused with an apparently shitty film of the same name, Peter Dukes‘s directorial debut Escape Room is a ’90s slasher throwback gem.
Four friends, including one famous web horror reviewer, check out an those activities that are now annoyingly at the top of every TripAdvisor Things to Do list wherever I fucking go: escape rooms.
The owner, Brice (era-appropriate darling Skeet Ulrich), worried about another ‘bad season’, panic-steals a cursed box from a local antiques shop owner (Sean Young, in her welcome tour of indie horror), despite being warned of its danger, Mr. Miyagi-style (and there’s even a phone gag referencing that exact movie). His sole employee, Molly (Hayley Goldstein), deadpans as the film’s voice of reason, telling him his beloved horror movies have lessons about this kind of crap (this really is made for genre geeks). “If a demon comes out and attacks us all, I will duly apologise,” Brice quips.
Because we know the inevitable, it cuts right to it: after one of the group opens the box, it lets out an invisible demon fart (if the camera’s going to pan upwards, at least invest in some CGI). Almost immediately, ‘Stitchface’ (Taylor Piedmonte), the shackled scare actor in the escape room, whose chain loosens in regular increments, goes rogue and stabs one of the group to death. Mercifully, nobody thinks this is ‘part of the game’ and instead, instantly switches to beat-the-clock mode before it’s too late. So far, so retrolicious.
But it’s a shame, then, that, for a pack of horror buffs, none of the group behaves with any hint of self-preservation. Unlike the one escape room I did, there are plenty of props and things that aren’t nailed down that could have been used as projectiles. And even after one of them is killed, that’s still 3:1. That could arguably be explained away by the mind-juju that the demon is shown to put on one of the girls, but it’s not really played that way. It’s an easy horror trope to fight; having the characters be just a little bit genre-smarter and still be under threat would have upped the already wiry tension.
That said, the film could have ditched the supernatural element entirely and just have it be a straight-up slasher. Much kudos to the filmmakers for casting racially-accurate actors in the film’s ancient, Middle-Eastern-set prologue, but it’s all just too much backstory for a no-budget film to handle without coming off as cheesy schlock.
Unless they’re conjuring up a sequel. With its plethora of wry genre references, memorable villain design and sharp supporting characters, I wouldn’t be surprised.