Synopsis – Six people unwittingly find themselves locked in another series of escape rooms, slowly uncovering what they have in common to survive. Joining forces with two of the original survivors, they soon discover they’ve all played the game before.
My Take – Upon release back in 2019, Escape Room, helmed by writer/director Adam Robitel, fresh off the financial success of Insidious: The Last Key (2018), turned out to be quite a delightful and surprising addition to the sub-genre. As it integrated the gimmicky formula of the Saw franchise with extreme escape room settings, and laced it successfully with plenty of PG13 thrills and shocking twists, turning it into a constantly entertaining pulse-pounding thriller.
Of course with the film cashing in $155 million worldwide on its meager $9 million budget, a sequel was pretty much guaranteed. Now finally released following several delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sequel as expected doubles down on the original’s ridiculous settings and simultaneously raises the stakes, while escalating its promising premise into another 88 minute long narrative that is full of shocking twists and turns.
Sure, the film is paced maybe a tad too quick, with some puzzles solved a little too easily to keep the plot moving forward at a steady speed, and there’s a pretty wild twist in the final act that will please fans and confuse the new audience, but it also never feels bloated or caught up in building its own mythology. It knows what we want, i.e. to deliver excellent puzzle based fun with the stakes of a Saw film. Resulting in just another shameless good time.
Set right after the events of the first film, the story once again follows Zoey (Taylor Russell), who with Ben (Logan Miller), as the last two survivors of the deadly labyrinth, head to New York with a determination to bring the shadowy Minos Corporation to justice, for abducting people and sending them through deadly interactive puzzles for the purposes of gambling and entertainment.
However, it’s not long before they’re unwittingly guided into a subway car which, as tourists, they fail to recognize as suspiciously sparse in population. When the car separates from the rest of the train and heads into a side tunnel, Zoey and Ben realize that they’re riding with passengers, Brianna (Indya Moore), Rachel (Holland Roden), Nathan (Thomas Cocquerel), and Theo (Carlito Olivero), who also happen to be survivors from previous games, all experienced and none too pleased to be drawn back into the game.
Without a doubt the rooms these characters are trapped in are the real stars of this series, and returning director Adam Robitel and his team of writers come up with enough clever new ways of killing people. Here, director Robitel and the set of writers embrace the revolving mystery of each dangerous room, turning our characters into sleuths as they piece together a series of obscure clues. They make individual mistakes and doubts, igniting lots of tension as they solve puzzles and escape from each room. From a bank equipped with powerful lasers to a thrilling subway train car, then to a New York Street ridden by acidic rain, the story unfolds with well-crafted and frightening puzzles.
To director Robitel’s credit, these scenes are genuinely exciting. The sequel continues the first film’s love of visceral production design, though the puzzle traps aren’t better this time around, but the rush is often present in the moment, especially when the rooms become deadly in creative ways.
His editing is even sharper with the series’ main spectacle, watching characters frantically learn their surroundings and piecing together clues, even if the script stretches the definition of what a recognizable hint looks like.
The final act twist also acts like a superb surprise. Much like the first film, there is a connection between each room and Zoey’s attempt to decipher the mystery is part of the alluring component once again. When that revelation comes to fruition though, I give them props for the surprise coming out of nowhere and how they utilized it into the sequel.
Yet the sequel continues shares the same missteps of its predecessor, as it struggle to humanize these characters past generic character tropes. The breakneck pace and imprecise writing prevent any of the six leads from gravitating much interest, while attempts at deeper ruminations on our paranoid surveillance state go virtually nowhere.
The performances are also decent across the board. Taylor Russell makes for an immensely likeable lead, and along with Logan Miller deserves significant praise for continuing to ground the proceedings. The newer addition, Indya Moore, Holland Roden, Thomas Cocquerel, and Carlito Olivero, bring enough gravity and humanity into their underwritten roles. Deborah Ann Woll continues to be a very effective performer. On the whole, ‘Escape Room: Tournament of Champions’ is a wildly entertaining sequel which offers enough thrills to keep one infectiously engaged.
Directed – Adam Robitel
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 88 minutes