Weird movie season gets off to decent start with “Escape Room,” a modest thriller that is pretty good. That might sound like faint praise, but for a movie like this, pretty good is the brass ring.
It stays within the limits of its aspiration and does what it sets out to do: It makes audiences nervous. No, it doesn’t manage that from beginning to end, but it does do it enough of the time.
The movie, like the two previous ones titled “Escape Room” — seriously, it’s time to come up with a new name — is intended to feed off the popularity of real-life escape rooms, problem-solving games in which players are put inside locked rooms and must piece together clues in order to get out. In this telling, a group of disparate strangers is invited to a free escape-room adventure, with the lure of a possible $10,000 prize. They soon wish they had passed.
Why these people? Why is this happening? What do they have in common? All is revealed, eventually.
In the meantime, the movie rolls out a series of imaginatively conceived horrors. In each case, the characters are introduced into an environment that seems benign but then turns lethal. The specifics are best left to be discovered in the watching, but a scene in an empty bar, in which the floor keeps giving way to a 20-story drop, is particularly effective.
Directed by Adam Robitel (“Insidious: The Last Key”), the project has no movie stars, though some of the actors have major TV credits, and they mesh well as an ensemble. Jay Ellis (TV’s “Insecure”) plays a ruthless, high-powered salesman; Deborah Ann Woll is utterly believable as an Iraq war veteran, and Taylor Russell provides an endearing performance as a shy scientific genius.
Also worthy of note is the film’s production designer, Edward Thomas.
It’s one thing for the screenwriters to devise these perilous situations, but nearly as much of their effectiveness derives from their precise realization in physical terms.
All that said, “Escape Room” is an amusement park ride. It has no reason for being beyond that base-level kick, and it doesn’t, as they say, transcend the genre. But there’s something to be said for amusement park rides. People like them for a reason.
★★½ out of 4 stars
Rating: PG-13 for terror, violence, suggestive material and profanity.