2019’s Escape Room was a pleasant surprise, because it took something that had become such a large part of the public consciousness — escape rooms — and used that fun pastime towards the simple idea of a group of strangers being forced to work to escape in order to survive and get $10,000. But if you don’t survive, well, then you’re dead.
The sequel, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, takes that premise and ups the ante with an equally simple and logical addition — those who have survived previous deadly escape rooms by Minos are put against each other similar to the Jeopardy: Tournament of Champions. Oh, except that all but one of the previous survivors will now die.
At the end of the previous Escape Room, survivors Zoe (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) were being pulled back into another deadly situation, as they decided to get revenge for what the evil Minos company put them through. The plan was to fly to their headquarters in New York City, but instead, they drive, and once they get to the city, they end up in a subway car with four other people, only to learn that it’s actually another Minos escape room, an electrified one.
There isn’t much more that needs to be said about the plot from there, because either you love the setpieces created with these quizzical escape rooms, where being able to decipher and solve clues literally means the difference between life and death. Russell and Miller are joined by four other decent actors, and there is a similar attention to the characterization that makes you really like the new people and not want any of them to die. In that way, this is very different from other horror films like the Saw or Final Destination movies where many of the characters deserve deaths, the more gruesome the better. That also makes Escape Room different from typical horror movies that always go for the goriest kills, the opportunity to turn stomachs is avoided.
Director Adam Robitel is back for the sequel, and he does an even more exemplary job creating the tension necessary for the movie to really keep the viewer on edge. Every step or decision could lead to almost certain death, and just when the unwilling gamers think they’ve figured something out — and let’s admit it, they’re MUCH smarter than any of us would be solving most of these clues — the rules are changed, and the conditions are made more difficult or harder to escape in one piece.
As with the first movie, Production Designer Edward Thomas is the absolute star of Robitel’s team, and for how many horror movies can you say that about? (Maybe the 2001 remake of 13 Ghosts? And the Saw movies?) The locations and rooms are as ingenious from a moviemaking standpoint, because they seem just as impossible seeing them on the screen as they do to the contestants, and as the clock ticks down, various elements click and move into place to make things even more dangerous. Even knowing what must be involved with creating some of these environments and all the moving pieces, the setpieces get even more complicated as things go along. (I certainly didn’t mean to gloss over the perfectly fine additions to Robitel’s cast and what they bring. Unfortunately, they’re merely acting as grist for the mill where you already know not to get too attached to anyone, the movie always being Zoey and Ben’s journey.)
One presumes there’s a good degree of VFX involved with making these rooms “work,” but Robitel’s dual DoPs, George Amos and Marc Spicer, and Editors Steve Mirkovich and Peter Pav, find a way to shoot and edit all the shots and angles to make the tenser moments work so fluidly. In other words, the entire team knows exactly what they’re doing, and it’s more impressive when you realize that probably most, if not all, of the post was done during the pandemic.
Fortunately, the sequel also has another great score by Brian Tyler, this time working with John Carey, and though it’s very different from everything else Tyler has done recently, it’s probably the most crucial component in that tension mentioned earlier.
Even more than the first movie, you get some idea how diabolical and downright evil the Minos Corporation is — there’s a pretty big twist in that respect, too — and some might be disappointed that this chapter also ends in a cliffhanger, leaving Zoe and Ben’s revenge waiting for another potential movie. In some ways, the Final Destination movies did the same thing but rarely with the same cast. Sure, it leaves you chomping on the bit for more, but how many times can one satisfy viewers without offering a satisfying resolution?
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions successfully thrusts you into another rapid-fire series of deadly escape rooms that rarely let up, keeping your heart rate pumping and leaving you wanting more of that particular type of adrenaline. For pure unadulterated entertainment value alone, it’s one of the better sequels this summer.
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions can ONLY be seen in movie theaters nationwide, starting Thursday afternoon, July 15.
All photos courtesy Sony Pictures.