Hello, everyone! I’m a fan of puzzles. Death-defying puzzles, that is. Nothing makes me happier than trying to piece together vague clues while a disembodied voice reminds me of my impending doom. Since I can’t risk my life for puzzles in the real world (stupid legal system!), I’ll settle for living vicariously through Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, a horror movie that is, literally, just 4 escape rooms in a row with a thread of plot connecting them together. You could go to an actual escape room and reap the reward of puzzle solving for yourself, but why do that that when you can watch movie people pretend to solve puzzles instead?
Synopsis: After beating a series of deadly escape rooms in the first movie, Zoe and Ben try to move on with their lives. But Zoe is determined to take down Minos, the secret company behind the murderous escape rooms, and make them pay for their crimes. She convinces Ben to come with her to Minos’ headquarters in New York, but when they reach the city, a thief steals Zoe’s locket. He leads them on a chase down to the subway and tricks them into boarding the train. As strange things begin to happen on the train, Zoe realizes that they’ve fallen once again into Minos’ trap, and must fight for their lives in a new series of escape rooms, this time with a group of former champions.
My thoughts: Your enjoyment of this movie will vary based on how much you like watching people solve puzzles. The majority of this 90 minute movie is devoted to the elaborate escape rooms, ranging from an electrified subway car, to a quicksand beach, to a recreation of Times Square where acid rain falls every 60 seconds. The set design is beautiful, and the puzzles in each room are clever and fun, but after the third room, the repetition starts to get tedious. After all, the audience is watching actors pick up pieces of paper, pretend to read them, pretend to think, and pretend to solve puzzles while Saw-style violence hangs over their heads.
Plenty of aspects of this film defy belief, but the worst part is how easily and quickly the characters solve each room. I’ve been in a few escape rooms, and even the easy ones take some time to solve, and that’s without the threat of sudden annihilation hanging over the game. The puzzles in this movie are much more intricate than the ones in a standard escape room, the square footage of the actual rooms is huge, and the characters’ thought processes are constantly being interrupted by countdown clocks, acid rain, burning lasers, quicksand, electric shocks, and the trauma of constant death. While I could believe that a bunch of seasoned puzzle masters working in tandem might solve rooms like these with ease, these characters aren’t puzzle masters. One character is an Instagram influencer, one is a priest, and one doesn’t feel physical pain. Zoe is a physicist who survived a plane crash, and Ben is a stockroom worker who survived a car crash. None of these people have extensive experience with solving timed puzzles in a high pressure environment, which makes it hard to believe that they all survived one series of rooms, let alone another. And yet, in each challenge, they overcome all of these obstacles to solve puzzles that would take an average person hours to solve. They make crazy leaps of logic, happen to know obscure bits of trivia (like the fact that acid rain can’t dissolve a ketchup bottle), and only “lose” rooms when they’re trying to save each other. They’re so good at solving these escape rooms that the stakes start to seem less important. How hard can these rooms be, really, if the team breezes through one every ten minutes?
If you can turn off your brain, this movie becomes infinitely more watchable. Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is a movie made for people who like watching other people solve puzzles and die bloodless PG-13 deaths, and it delivers on all of those fronts. Although the characters in this movie are paper-thin, the actors are charismatic enough to make you care about whether they live or die. The script is kind of corny, but the suspense is real. My heart-rate increased proportionally with every room, and practically beat out of my chest at the cliffhanger of a twist ending. Maybe I haven’t seen a horror movie in theaters in a long time (another thing to blame on COVID), but it seemed to me that everyone was on the edge of their seats. It wasn’t a scary movie, but it was a thrilling one. I might re-classify it as: Thriller, gamified social commentary.
Speaking of social commentary, this movie gave me just enough of “the underclass will rise again” to keep me interested before lapsing back into silly puzzle-based deaths. Superficial social commentary is super hot right now, and this franchise incorporates several horror movie trends: rich people watching poor people die for fun, a mysterious super-corporation controlling the public’s reality, and a survival of the fittest game that is really a metaphor for capitalism. While it’s always exciting to see the underclass attempting to fight against the puppet-masters (in this case Minos, in real life, Jeff Bezos), Escape Room: Tournament of Champions ends with a cliffhanger that reminds the audience that the rich people will always win. Just when you think you’ve won the game, the rules keep changing. It’s a depressing dose of reality in a movie that otherwise throws realism out the escape room door.
Final Consensus: Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is a 90 minute version of every puzzle-geek’s worst nightmare. Clever set design, engaging puzzles, and likable characters make the movie worth a trip to the theater. After this movie, you might think twice about setting foot in a real escape room. Next up: a horror movie about crosswords!