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Escape Room

Inspired by TV shows including The Adventure Game and The Crystal Maze, escape rooms are immersive tests of skill and nerve, which challenge participants to uncover hidden objects, crack codes and solve puzzles within a strict time limit. There are hundreds of fiendish rooms across the UK and Ireland, which reward teamwork, verbal communication skills, ingenuity and pluck in a claustrophobic setting with the pulse-quickening tension of a ticking clock. Director Adam Robitel and scriptwriters Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik tap into this craze for interactive entertainment for the warped premise of a predictable horror thriller. Escape Room is engineered with many of the same parts as the Saw franchise, albeit without the relentless gore and entrails. Set in Chicago, the film throws together six hastily sketched strangers and compels them to play for their lives in a series of diabolically designed rooms where one wrong move could prove fatal. Only three protagonists are blessed with flimsy back stories, which tips the wink about who is likely to perish first and neutralises any half-hearted attempts to generate dramatic tension. Desperately shy college student Zoey Davis (Taylor Russell) is a genius with numbers and theorems but she is afraid to step out of her comfort zone. "Try doing something over break that scares you," a tutor encourages her. Soon after, Zoey receives an invitation to the Minos Escape Room, which boasts a 10,000 US dollar prize for anyone who can complete the perplexing challenges and unlock a final door. Mustering her courage, Zoey arrives at a hulking concrete building and enters a waiting room where she meets the other players: Iraq War veteran Amanda Harper (Deborah Ann Woll), grocery store worker Ben Miller (Logan Miller), nerdy escape room enthusiast Danny Khan (Nick Dodani), smooth-talking stockbroker Jason Walker (Jay Ellis) and former miner Mike Nolan (Tyler Labine). The participants trade awkward pleasantries until Ben attempts to leave for a cigarette break. The waiting room's metal door handle breaks and the strangers deduce the game has begun. Amanda, Ben, Danny, Jason, Mike and Zoey excitedly scavenge their surroundings for clues. They are blissfully unaware that their temporary prison is laden with booby traps fashioned by a Machiavellian games master called Dr Yu (Yorick van Wageningen). Escape Room is bolted together with sequels in mind and it doesn't take a genius to identify which character is most likely to survive until the end credits. Designs of some of the rooms show flashes of imagination but a breathless penultimate challenge is a hallucinogenic trip too far into the realms of the absurd. Playing an escape room in person is far more thrilling and intellectually stimulating than anything Robitel conjures on screen but he elicits solid performances from an ensemble cast, who are meat for the cinematic grinder.