Escape Room was released on January 4. A month later, it’s received mixed reviews on Rotten Tomatoes with a 51% critic rating and a 58% audience rating. It’s done rather well from a commercial standpoint. With a budget of $9 million, the movie has raked in domestic sales of $52 million to date.
I haven’t watched it. I didn’t even know it was out until a few weeks ago. That doesn’t have anything to do with Rotten Tomatoes reviews. Admittedly, this article was actually going to be about how the trailer looked stupid and I had no intention of watching the film, choosing to do a review of GOOD movies about people trapped inside a room looking for escape instead.
However, furthering my research on Escape Room for this article, I stumbled upon another trailer that left me far more impressed. Little interested me in the first trailer I saw, outside the appearance of Deborah Ann Woll of Daredevil and Punisher fame. In the longer, better cut trailer, the actual rooms and a few more of the plot points were released and I was less skeptical about the film.
You can blame the Saw franchise for my reluctance to dig back into the genre. First, there's the over-saturation of the market. There are eight full length Saw films and a short. And it’s not just the saw franchise, but what it spawned. Sadistic killers, people either in confined spaces or being chased by bad guys looking for escape, and excessively intricate and bloody death scenes. The horror genre became a bit formulaic for a while. I think it’s fair to be choosy about what I plan on investing an hour and a half or more of my time watching.
The concept of strangers banding together to get away from a sadistic killer or deathly situation predates Saw. The Cube movies I love (well, I love two of them and was not entirely annoyed by Cube 2: Hypercube). Cube was released in 1997 with three movies in the franchise. I’d call Cube more of a psychological thriller than a horror film, but maybe that’s a matter of opinion.
What is the central reason I prefer Cube to Saw? It’s more than just one movie being better than the other. The movies share too many similarities.
Cube and Saw both fit into both the horror and psychological thrillers categories. Both have mysterious torturers with Saw’s antagonist only revealing his voice and the Cube bad guys never revealing themselves at all.
Both movies have lukewarm critic reviews with significantly better audience reviews. Both films received commercial success. Saw was a low budget cult classic that raked in dollars at the box office and spawned a lengthy franchise. Although Cube had limited domestic success, it made over $8.9 million worldwide.
In remembering back to why I stopped watching scary movies in general, I realized what the distinction was. I know why Cube is on my top ten favorite movies ever and I don’t so much as give Saw a second thought. It’s also why I’m going to give Escape Room a shot.
Is gore and shock value the main attraction?
Saw is primarily about new, more grotesque ways to see someone tortured or killed. The original Saw film had an intriguing storyline. Perhaps some of the later Saw films do as well. But sitting in a coffee shop listening to people talk about the franchise, you’re probably going to hear more about the sadistic torture methods than the excellent storytelling.
Cube starts with an unnamed character being cut by wires into little equally sized cubes. There’s plenty of gore in the movie, but it’s not central to the plot. The tension that mounts between the characters based on secrets that come out and general paranoia are what really drive the story. You’re intrigued by the mystery of the ever-shifting box and the rooms they eventually discover are rotating around them.
The acting is arguably better in Saw. Neither are visually stunning. But the feeling of tension from the paranoia of the characters in Cube is far more interesting to me than the various forms of torture in Saw or Saw-like movies. I don’t have a problem with blood and guts. I am, however, always disappointed when it is used as a method to distract the audience from the fact there’s no substance to the film.
Although I can’t help but view Escape Room through the lens of those two films, I’m also aware it’s a film unto itself. It’s PG-13 rating makes excessive blood and gore an impossibility. I am intrigued to see how Escape Room attempts to keep the audience’s attention without resorting to that shock factor which can be found in both Saw and Cube.
I’m also curious to see how it’s attempt to bank off the recent success of escape rooms pays off. Will it succeed in giving the audience the same adrenaline rush of finding clues and solving a puzzle? Or will it fall flat on its face?
I’ve seen plenty of bad movies, and perhaps Escape Room will fall into that category. But after examining it through the lens of two cult classics I’m going to at least give the movie a chance.