Escape Room review

ESCAPE ROOM

Director : Adam Robitel
Cast : Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, Nik Dodani
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 99 mins
Opens : 10 January 2019
Rating : PG13

       Stress and panic are thing most people instinctively try to avoid, but there’s a long history of people inducing stress and panic in themselves in the name of entertainment. Horror movies and roller coasters serve this purpose, and so do escape rooms, in which participants are trapped until they can find a way out by solving puzzles, the clues to which are hidden in the room. A little bit of pressure under controlled circumstances can be invigorating. In this horror thriller, the participants of an escape room find those circumstances going terrifyingly out of control.

College student Zoey (Taylor Russell), grocery store stockist Ben (Logan Miller), military veteran Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), stock trader Jason (Jay Ellis), trucker Mike (Tyler Labine) and escape room enthusiast Danny (Nik Dodani) find themselves in the waiting room of the Minos Escape Room in Chicago. They were each given a puzzle box by someone they know, with the promise of a $10 000 cash prize if they solve the puzzles and escape the room.

However, as they undergo a literal trial by fire and brave a host of other deadly traps, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary escape room. Each stage contains specific references to the participants’ personal histories, indicating that a vast conspiracy lies behind their predicament. The five strangers must cooperate to find a way out or face their deaths at the hands of whatever sinister force has set up this twisted game.

           Escape Room takes on a bit of an eerie quality given the very recent tragedy in which five girls in Poland died in an escape room as the result of apparent arson. An escape room as a setting for a horror film seems like a natural idea, and two unrelated low-budget horror movie both also called ‘Escape Room’ were released in 2017.

There is appeal in the idea of a PG-13 take on Saw (specifically the second film onwards, when traps became more of a feature), a horror thriller that places an emphasis on puzzle-solving and trap design instead of excessive gore. In addition to Saw, there are shades of Cube, The Game and Final Destination, yet Escape Room is not as derivative as many other disposable horror flicks – or at least that’s how it starts.

Despite some extremely clunky dialogue and broadly-drawn characters, the film starts off engrossingly enough. Director Adam Robitel stages reasonably tense set-pieces within production designer Edward Thomas’ sets. Even without graphic violence, the stakes are established, and audiences begin to fear for the characters. There are little touches like the name ‘Minos’ being an allusion to the Greek myth of the Minotaur in the labyrinth. However, it’s not long before everything falls apart.

The actors dutifully occupy each of the stock types and there is some fun to be had in guessing the order in which the characters are killed off. Taylor Russell’s withdrawn genius student is a protagonist who’s easy to root for, while Logan Miller manages to give a little depth to the sullen, antisocial Ben. Deborah Ann Woll showcases some physicality as the ex-military Amanda, while Jay Ellis relishes playing a slime-ball finance guy.

Tyler Labine probably gets the least to do as the blue-collar guy who’s out of his depth, while Nik Dodani’s enthusiastic Danny is intentionally grating. It’s not the worst collection of six characters to show up in a horror movie, but it’s far from the most memorable.

Most negative reviews of Escape Room single out the ending, and with good reason. The conclusion of the film is equivalent to an escape room employee shuffling into the room mid-puzzle, telling the participants there never was a solution from the start, and then chasing everyone out before turning off the lights. Whatever riveting intensity the preceding scenes possessed is squandered by the extremely unsatisfying ending, which appears to set up a sequel and leaving nothing resolved.

With a better script, Escape Room seems like something that David Fincher could’ve made earlier in his career. Robitel, who also directed Insidious: The Last Key, is no David Fincher, but several set-pieces are executed with sufficient flair. Thanks to a competent cast, decent production values and passable amounts of invention in the traps and riddles, Escape Room is a safe distance from the bottom-of-the-barrel horror movies that typically get January releases, but the payoff leaves a lot to be desired.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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The Boss

For F*** Magazine

THE BOSS 

Director : Ben Falcone
Cast : Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Tyler Labine, Kathy Bates, Annie Mumulo, Kristen Schaal, Kathy Bates
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 99 mins
Opens : 21 April 2016
Rating : M18 (Sexual References and Coarse Language)

Melissa McCarthy has become one of the most in-demand comedic actors in Hollywood, and her latest starring vehicle sees her in a position of power as the 47th wealthiest woman in the United States. McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, a business mogul and popular financial guru who gets knocked down a few pegs when she’s convicted of insider trading. Starting from scratch after her release from prison, she has nowhere to stay except with her former assistant Claire Rawlins (Bell). The long-suffering Claire has moved on to a new job, trying to provide for her daughter Rachel (Anderson). Michelle hatches a business plan to create a brownie empire off Claire’s secret family recipe. Michelle’s long-time nemesis and former lover Renault (Dinklage) is bent on preventing Michelle from getting back on her feet. Michelle has to learn to become equal partners with Claire, the woman she used to boss around, if her plan is going to succeed.

            The Boss is directed by McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone, who also makes a cameo appearance as a lawyer. Falcone previously directed McCarthy in Tammy, and the couple also co-wrote The Boss with Steve Mallory. Mallory is a friend of theirs from the comedy troupe Groundlings, and Michelle Darnell is based on a character McCarthy developed during her time at the Groundlings. This sounds like a bunch of friends having a laugh – while there’s no rule saying that a bunch of friends having a laugh cannot produce a solid movie, The Boss comes off as flimsy and self-indulgent. There must be hundreds of smarter, sharper comedy scripts floating around Hollywood, but this gets made because of the clout McCarthy has garnered, and due to the influence of producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.

            While McCarthy is undeniably talented, like every actor out there, she has certain strengths and weaknesses. She’s at her best as the scrappy, brash underdog who musters up the gumption when it counts the most. The Michelle Darnell character is obnoxious, confrontational and generally unpleasant. Her sappy backstory – that she bounced around foster homes living a childhood of rejection – is intended to mitigate Michelle’s repulsive behaviour to those around her, especially those trying to help her. It comes off as lazy writing and there’s the promise that the character will be forced to eat her humble pie and change her ways, but any redemption is half-hearted at best. Around half the jokes consist of Michelle blurting out something grossly inappropriate in the presence of children, while the adults gasp and the kids ask “what’s ‘girl-on-girl’?” Rachel seems to get along with Michelle almost immediately, overcoming her initial suspicions of her mother’s former boss with convenient ease. Again, pretty lazy writing.

            Bell is a charming performer whose sunny disposition has served her well in other comedic roles. She does get a few scenes in which the chemistry she shares with McCarthy approaches funny – there’s an extended gag in which Michelle is giving Claire advice about what bra she should wear out for a date where some passable physical comedy is on display from both actors. However, it’s all too clear that this is McCarthy’s show and she’s not going to let anyone steal it from her.

Dinklage, a consummate scene-stealer if ever there was one, is criminally underused as the main antagonist. He is entertaining with the little screen time he gets, but the character is little more than Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, complete with a Smithers in the form of his lackey Stephan (Timothy Simons). The actors who were considered for the role which would become Dinklage’s include names as varied as Oprah Winfrey, Jon Hamm and Sandra Bullock. This indicates there wasn’t really a strong idea for who the villain would be, other than a name actor. Bates gets even shorter shrift, appearing as Michelle’s spurned mentor Ida Marquette in two scenes. Dave Bautista showed up in the teaser trailer, but has apparently been cut from the finished film.  

            The Boss has a very sitcom-esque premise: powerful woman used to having things her way has to move in with her beleaguered assistant and shenanigans ensue. Because the germ of the idea feels so much like something you’d see on network TV (that would get cancelled after one season), the swearing and brazen sexual humour feel like they’ve been shoehorned in to make this an edgy, R-rated comedy – and edgy, The Boss absolutely is not. McCarthy’s numerous detractors are highly unlikely to be swayed by her latest starring vehicle, which comes off as little more than a flat, cynical exercise.

Summary:Playing a noxious, unlikeable character whose actions are given the flimsiest excuse, Melissa McCarthy’s comedic skills are largely wasted in The Boss.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong