Released: 1st July
Seen: 10th October
Over the last few years, it appears that one of the big things in horror movies is “What if escape rooms were actually deadly?”. No, not like in the Saw films where you have deadly traps in rooms you need to escape, but literal escape rooms with puzzles to solve and if you don’t solve them fast enough you will die somehow.
This has led to the monster hit Escape Room and the less liked Follow Me, along with several other films with this premise (Did you know there were two films in 2017 called Escape Room? One of them was written and directed by the guy who made Follow Me!) and some of them work, some don’t, but the 2019 Escape Room was the one that broke 150 million at the box office so that’s the one that gets a sequel… I really wasn’t a fan of the original, turns out I’m not a fan of this movie either.
Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions picks up shortly after the first movie, with the survivors Zoey Davis (Taylor Russell) and Ben Miller (Logan Miller) on a trip to locate the company that previously put them in a series of ironic death traps and somehow bring them to justice. However, the Monos Corporation is so far ahead of Ben and Zoey and they somehow rig it to get them onto a train with 4 other people who also previously beat one of these games and then put all of them through even more games. The budget is bigger, the rooms are more elaborate, everything seems to be a lot bigger… and yet, the fucks available to give are in short supply.
Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions runs headfirst into the same key issue that the first Escape Room did… namely, everyone is kinda dumb and it feels like they’re solving all these puzzles through sheer dumb luck. Scenes that could be tense are almost turned into comedies by characters just giving up and brute-forcing things for no reason. This happens in a scene where the gang are in a bank and have to cross a tiled floor where some of the tiles are booby trapped with laser beams that could cut everyone into ribbons (oh hi Cube, looks like this film’s gonna steal from you too!).
At some point during this scene which was really building tension with the characters teaming up to try and solve the elaborate problem, Nathan (Thomas Cocquerel) (a character who is established as an alcoholic former priest for no reason other than they need to give him some form of backstory and they pulled those words out of a hat), just starts guessing what tile to step on while everyone screams at him to stop. Keep in mind that Nathan stepping on a wrong tile could end with the lasers turning on and carving everyone up, it’s one of the stupidest moments in a film that’s just full of stupidity.
This kind of thing happens a lot, characters will do the stupidest thing imaginable or just give up and let themselves die because we need to get them out of the film now and can’t be bothered to write a way for that to happen naturally. It’s a movie full of elaborate death traps and a solid half of the deaths come down to “I’m bored, I’mma let the room just end it all”. That really doesn’t make me want to care for the characters, and it’s a disservice to the genuinely great actors who are giving their all to this project.
Indeed, nothing that’s wrong with this movie is on the actors who all being it. They all feel like people who have serious PTSD from being in these games before and they all come with great backstories. It’s lovely seeing Indya Moore as one of the first trans women of colour to get a major role in a horror film, Holland Roden is fast turning into a go to actor for Escape Room movies (she also turned up in Follow Me) and honestly is the most interesting character in this film. Carlito Olivero only gets a short amount of time, but he really makes it work. All the actors give their all to make this work, it’s not their fault that the script’s just not working out for them.
Where this movie actually improves on the original, at least in part, is how it brings in more time watching the people who made the game and gets into their motivations. Seeing the rooms being planned, the familial dynamic, the hierarchy of those who work for Minos is all fascinating stuff that really gives this world a lot more to work with… granted, the ending devolves into a farcical piece of bullshit that sets up a sequel while also making the previous hour and a half even more stupid than it already was.
At this point, I should explain that I rented the extended cut which adds 7 minutes to the film… by completely changing the ending and opening. Yeah if you saw the ending in cinemas, you saw a very different ending than what was put in the extended cut. We’re talking “A character is alive who shouldn’t be and a villain is revealed” levels of change. Neither ending is good, both raise very different questions that never get properly answered and when the time comes for the third movie they’re going to have to pick one ending to make canon and there’s a chance the audience won’t know what the hell is going on. This isn’t Clue god damnit, you can’t just do multiple random endings for no damn reason.
It’s like the film thinks surprising the audience with something out of left field is the same as a plot twist but it’s not, it’s just stupidity. This isn’t something like the grand reveals that end most of the Saw movies where they at least tried to have it make some sense with what came before, these are just done because they want people to point to the screen and go “Oh, you’re alive?” or “Oh, that was the villain the whole time?” and don’t bother to do the work.
Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions is just another version of Escape Room with less strobes and a bigger budget for more elaborate rooms but it still just doesn’t work. Most of it might just be the fact that it’s not as much fun watching people solve escape rooms as it is to do it yourself, but it’s also just that the film never really makes you feel like these characters are smart or in any danger of anything beyond a “rocks fall, everyone dies” death which is just not that interesting.
Considering it made 50 million on a 15 million budget I won’t be shocked if there’s a third and final chapter but… yeah, this is not that good and I’m getting kinda tired. At least the slasher films of the 80s found different ways to impale people when they were just repeating things, this barely even has the decency to vary much from what we saw before.