When it comes to overproduced studio schlock, my brother and I are connoisseurs. Sure, we enjoy competently-crafted movies, but nothing compares to the satisfaction of dissecting the stupidity and ineptitude of stinkers like Resident Evil: Retribution, Silent Hill: Revelation, and Chernobyl Diaries. Escape Room doesn’t quite reach the heights (or sink to the lows, I suppose) of those glorious cinematic train wrecks, but like any good puzzle, careful examination reveals a treasure trove of plot holes, logical inconsistencies, and ham-fisted storytelling.
While the premise of a lethal escape-the-room challenge seems ridiculous on the surface, it really is the least of the film’s problems; after all, the horror genre has drawn inspiration from literary classics, urban legends, holidays, internet memes, power tools, and boardgames—the latest company retreat fad honestly isn’t that much of a stretch. In terms of its themes, conflicts, and structure, it’s basically a big-budget reimagining of Cube (a group of strangers must fight their way through an architecturally-improbable labyrinth, evading deadly traps and unraveling the mystery behind why they’ve been imprisoned), with a few elements from Cabin in the Woods, The Belko Experiment, Saw, and Hostel thrown in for good measure. It’s undeniably derivate, but the familiar ingredients are remixed skillfully enough to keep the audience invested in the action.
Indeed, in the moment, Escape Room is thoroughly engrossing, sprinting through the narrative with such relentless forward momentum and buoyed by such a likable ensemble cast that you almost fail to notice the clunky exposition, transparent foreshadowing, and on-the-nose characterization. But the post-screening discussion inevitably illuminates these flaws and countless others (seriously, how did none of our protagonists realize that the receptionist was a mannequin delivering a pre-recorded message?), and picking them apart is just as fulfilling as solving a riddle or brain-teaser. That’s the true joy of trash cinema: the experience continues long after you leave the theater.