Escape Game: Tournament of Champions ★★ ½
M, 88 minutes
An escape room is a trap you enter for fun, in the same spirit as you might go to a horror movie: the challenge is to find your way. In Adam Robitel’s horror thriller in 2019 Escape room, the stakes of the puzzle turned out to be literally life or death – raising the question of whether the film could be a trap for audiences in turn.
It’s a premise that apparently demands all the cruel ingenuity that filmmakers could muster, even more in the absence of the horrific violence of the Seen cinema. In practice, however, Escape room contained little to terrify anyone over 12 – and the screws also don’t noticeably tighten in the tracking Escape Game: Tournament of Champions, with Robitel again at the helm.
Still, the opening is promising. After surviving a series of “escape rooms” designed by the sinister Minos Corporation, the clever heroine Zoey (Taylor Russell) and her boyfriend Ben (Logan Miller) do their best to move on.
But Zoey isn’t convinced they’ve ever escaped: the whole world now looks like a prison and a puzzle, with everything she sees and hears as a potential clue. Whether you call her occult insight or PTSD, her anxiety is justified: soon she and Ben find themselves again at the mercy of Minos, along with a new group of strangers.
Broadly speaking, the journey that follows can be seen as an allegory of how young people pay the price for the sins of their elders: one of the painstakingly designed murder chambers looks like a bank, another is literally drenched in acid rain. But many of the specific puzzles are pretty arbitrary – and watching the group rush off to find solutions isn’t much more interesting than the same would be on a reality show.
What is remarkable is the tone. It is not “torture porn” at all, in the sense that a questionable phrase is applied to Seen, nor anywhere as cynical as The hunger Games. The characters are always bickering, it makes you wonder what some of them may be hiding and, as you would expect, not all of them make it to the end. But along the way, we see a healthy dose of genuine cooperation, loyalty, and self-sacrifice – these are human beings, not trapped rats.
It doesn’t hurt to reveal that Minos isn’t defeated once and for all: even if it looked like this, we’d take it for granted that the door to the sequels remains open. But it’s a film aimed at a young audience that strikes a balance between cheerful optimism and despair – which in itself is rare enough to deserve some praise.
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