Wednesday, May 15, 2019

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - ESCAPE ROOM

‘Blu-ray or Bust’
ESCAPE ROOM (2019, PG-13, 99 minutes, COLUMBIA PICTURES)

I miss the horror films of the eighties.  THE THING, HOUSE (the one with William Katt), FRIGHT NIGHT (the one without Colin Farrell), AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON—you know, movies that utilized practical effects over CGI, quite possibly because CGI sucked shark turds back then.

Not to say that there have not been vast improvements in the technology since then.  You wouldn’t have films like THE AVENGERS or BLADE RUNNER 2049 without the abilities of current day computers.  Yet we are talking about horror films.  One of the first to really utilize the technology was AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS, a terribly written sequel to the John Landis classic.  The horrible writing wasn’t the death knell of that poorly received attempt to mentally junk-punch the audience, however: it was the cartoon werewolves that landed the greatest insult.

Thank the Sweet Baby Hey-Zeus that the technological advances have gotten us to the point we are now: no more bad paintings for backgrounds, no more blobby wolves.  Most films rely on CGI nowadays to streamline the onscreen action, and it is typically used quite effectively.  Enter ESCAPE ROOM, a film that harkens back to the practical effects of that bygone era when people actually built sets instead of having the actors stand on and before giant green screens.

The set pieces are the star of this film; all of the acting is fine, much of the script is fine, but it is the rooms that six strangers must escape from or die in that are the true treat here.  At first, the viewer is invited into their immersive world; I found myself looking for clues on the screen just as frantically as the characters were, even though I wasn’t in a life-or-death situation.  The actors are effective enough: Deborah Ann Woll of “True Blood” and “Daredevil” fame is on hand to lend some credibility to the younger actors, as is Tyler Labine—“Dale” from TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL.

But one of the major issues with what transpires onscreen is that the audience is effectively removed from the action in the final few set pieces.  And the final five minutes of the film is an entirely unnecessary arc which is so bad it is nearly an insult to our intelligence.

So basically, skip the first seven minutes and the last five.  That beginning, too, is a bit clunky.  Another part of the problem is that director Adam Robitel seems to suffer from moments of genuine flair, which is offset by bouts of screaming inadequacy.  It’s like watching a duck chugging an energy drink, and then taking a downer immediately afterwards.  Lots of excited flapping and then a sudden nap, pretty much.  This is the same guy that thought the script for INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY would make a good movie to direct, and I’d rather have one of my testicles removed through my nose hole than suffer through that crap again.

While there may not be a lot of gunfire or explosions, this is kinda necessary in the high-end format.  The set pieces are lovingly detailed, especially the upside-down barroom, which is a great lesson in physics, and makes for a tense scene.  The score by Brian Tyler (CRAZY RICH ASIANS) lends a heavy, dramatic air to the proceedings, and benefits from surround sound.

It isn’t that this movie is terrible—it isn’t.  But it could be so much better, so much more effective, if it stayed away from the typical tropes which plague much of horror cinema today.  Like the unnecessary setup for a sequel, which takes five minutes of the end time and plays out as more of an anti-climax than it does an effective epilogue.  So, yeah—stay for the practical effects, leave for the bookends of banality.

Film Grade: B-
Special Features: C (not enough there, and what is there isn’t all that enlightening)
Blu-ray Necessary: Recommended

--T.S. Kummelman 

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