Despite all of its benefits, success can be a burden. While it’s undeniably rewarding to be successful, it’s psychologically tormenting to see that success jeopardized, or to feel it slipping away. How far would you go to maintain that level of recognition? Writer/Director Peter Dukes showcases this internal conflict throughout Escape Room, highlighting the horrifically negative impact that this obsession can have if you’re unable to contain it.
The film follows Brice (Skeet Ulrich), the owner and mastermind behind a once-popular escape room in Los Angeles. Brice obsesses over the dwindling success and tarnished popularity of his attraction, taking whatever measures are necessary to ensure that his escape room will be #1 again. This obsession ultimately leads him to accidentally unleash an ancient evil on four friends while they partake in the escape room, leaving them with less than an hour to solve the puzzles and head for the exit before they’ll be disposed of by a demonic killer.
Escape Room is not a perfect film, but it’s one that die-hard horror fans will immensely enjoy. Apart from the headlining Ulrich, who expertly walks the line between villain and reluctant hero, the dramatic performances of the central cast are lacking at times. The actors overcome this, however, through their relatable chemistry to each other and their sheer likability. You don’t want harm to come to a single one of the friends, and that’s a testament to the performers, and especially to the script by Peter Dukes. As a lifelong horror fan, I couldn’t help but crack a smile at the constant genre references and horror-geek banter between the characters. Dukes exudes an almighty love for the genre, and it shines through his material.
That’s about the only thing to smile at here though, because the film draws you into a white-knuckle intensity that is unrelenting for long stretches of time. Once our characters are positioned inside of the escape room, Dukes wrings maximum suspense and terror out of the situation. The killer, Stitchface, is a physically imposing presence that, like the most iconic horror villains, is shrouded in mystery. We learn what the character is capable of as his victims are doing the same, and the lack of predictability will keep viewers on their toes and invested throughout.
The biggest gripe I have about Dukes’ effort is the ending. Without delving into spoiler territory, as most people have not yet had the opportunity to experience the film, there’s a scene that features a key character walking away as the camera pans out. Ideally, this scene would have made for a perfect ending, and it even seemed as though it was wrapping up given the movement of the camera and the composition of the musical score. However, there’s a scene that unexpectedly follows this one that exists only to tie story strands into a neat little bow. I found the latter scene to be unnecessary and detrimental to what would have been the perfect stopping place.
Despite its flaws, Escape Room is an intense experience and a love letter to horror signed, sealed, and delivered by director Peter Dukes. It features likable characters, a solid performance by Skeet Ulrich, and a killer that is destined to be mentioned among the genre’s most underrated for years to come. I had a blast watching, and I imagine that all horror fans will walk away with a similar experience.