The first Escape Room was the type of project that when you heard about it, the only suitable reaction was “why?” – money, the answer is always money. The movie was not truly a good film, but it had an easy watchability about it in the way it took Saw, Cube and The Hunger Games, placed them into a blender and poured it into a PG-13 mold. While I do not subscribe to the idea of “guilty pleasures”, given the reactions towards the first one maybe there should be some guilt tied to my enjoyment (listen to a recent podcast in which I discussed the film in depth here). With a low budget and a big box office, there was little doubt that this would spawn a franchise. In the follow-up Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, our two survivors from the first go around get lured into round two as they attempt to expose the malevolence of the Minos Corporation, the company that first constructed the dangerous game. Those who hated the first film are not likely to be won over, but this entry does offer some subtle improvements and tighter editing while showcasing a thrilling series of deadly puzzles that are visually stunning.
For those who missed the first film, this one offers up what amounts to a “previously on Escape Room” in the opening minutes. Zoey (Taylor Russell, Waves) and Ben (Logan Miller, Love, Simon) are only a short time removed from the horrific events of the first film. They process their PTSD in different ways; Zoey is hell-bent on tracking down Minos and making people believe her experience; Ben would rather forget the past and suffer only in dreams, but he has a loyalty to the girl who saved his life. As they take a road trip to New York to track down a lead, they find themselves guided by the God-like hand of Minos into a train car where they soon realize they have just been trapped in a new game. Not only this, but the other contestants are also previous survivors of the game (yes “Tournament of Champions” is uttered in the film and you should cheer when it happens). This is key to making this entry a bit more enjoyable; by jettisoning the clunky expository dialogue about their circumstances, the characters get to exist purely in survival mode as they face deathtrap after deathtrap. The emotional stakes are clear with these traumatized survivors, and they work through that while trying to survive, allowing the film to move at a thrilling pace.
As is abundantly clear for a movie such as this, the real star is the various inventive escape rooms they have to make their way through. We have train cars filled with lightning and a bank lobby with lasers that under different circumstances would probably bring carnage similar to the first Resident Evil film. We even have a nice, sunny facsimile of a beach which quickly devolves into a cloudy nightmare. While you never know who might be “eliminated” from the game at any given point, you have a pretty good idea based on normal thriller conventions. Nevertheless, the film effectively gets your pulse pounding as these contestants feverishly try to solve their puzzles only to find time rapidly counting down. There is a need to work together for the common good, meaning any weak link leaves you gripping your seat. The new faces are passable in garnering your interest with Holland Roden (Mayans M.C.) as Rachel and Indya Moore (Pose) as Brianna being the standouts. The MVP of the film is the returning Taylor Russell, who exudes a general brilliance and a sympathetic demeanor which only an actor of her caliber can bring to this role.
As fun as this film can be, it is not one that holds up to even the slightest bit of scrutiny. There is no way on earth that even the most powerful company could build a secret multi-level facility underneath the subways of New York City that would house all of these rooms. There are also the character decisions made in the heat of survival that will drive you mad because you are already one step ahead of the clues. The film builds to a revelation that will have fans of the franchise ecstatic at first, but it is one that makes less sense as you stand back and think upon it. Still, with the film’s breakneck pace you are given very little time to contemplate the ramifications of all that is supposedly revealed. Clocking in at a spry 82 minutes as the credits start rolling, the movie takes an “all killer, no filler” approach which will appeal to those who want to get in, experience a few thrills, and get out. It is easy to spot how the film will be set up for a sequel well before it happens, but the final moment still plays as you with one final jolt.
The Blu-Ray of Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions comes with an “Extended Version” that one might think is simply marketing to hopefully sell a few more copies. After all, most “extended” or “unrated” cuts of horror/thrillers are nothing more than a couple curse words and maybe some added gore. This is not the case here. While listed as only being seven minutes longer than the Theatrical Version, there is an estimated 25 minutes of new footage included in the film. The beginning and ending of the film is COMPLETELY different in a way that is simply staggering. While the Theatrical Version takes the solid approach of having a faceless villain, the Extended Version gives you an entire backstory featuring notable actor James Frain (Star Trek: Discovery). This ultimately makes more sense than what we get in the Theatrical, but the pacing is slowed way down in a way that feels crippling in its lack of thrills. I would love to know the story behind how this all went down because there had to be some test screenings that made them go back to the drawing board. You don’t just lose a whole plotline like this. There are benefits to both versions, but ultimately the Theatrical Version is more satisfying even if it has more plot holes.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions to Blu-Ray with a really lovely 1080p video presentation in 2.39:1. The image is clean with the bright color palette popping off the screen. The film employs nice splashes of bold colors within the production design of the escape rooms, which makes for a very striking image. The black levels are appropriately deep and inky with no discernible digital noise. The flesh tones are natural with a magnificent amount of detail present in close-ups, especially. The presentation provides a significant amount of depth on display, especially in the interior shots. The production design from the subway car to the beach, along with the fabrics of clothing, provide crystal clear textural details. This is as solid of a presentation as any modern movie should provide on Blu-Ray.
This Blu-Ray release boasts a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that packs one hell of a punch. This disc brings these pulse-pounding moments to life with a depth and clarity of sound that is staggering. As our contestants roam from room to room, the sounds of shifting contraptions and other subtle effects flow out of your side and rear speakers. Each sound is precisely placed with perfect spatial awareness. The track engages all of the channels with panning effects and sounds of chaos that really makes you feel like you are in the thick of the action. The implementation of environmental effects such as electricity and acidic rainfall come through in a natural way. There is an insane amount of activity in the low-end which will keep your house shaking with every near death. Dialogue comes through clearly without getting muddied by the score or any sound effects. Sony knocked it out of the park with this track, so those with a good surround sound setup should have fun with this one.
- Dazzling But Deadly: A six-minute featurette in which the cast and crew discuss how the rooms are the draw of the film and characters are merely pawns. There are brief insights given about each room featured in the film.
- Game Of Champions: A five-minute featurette which looks into the new and returning characters featured in the film.
- Upping The Ante: A four-minute featurette which looks into how the creative team devised new ways to send characters towards their deaths.
Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions is harmless popcorn entertainment that survives due to how much fun it is trying to solve puzzles alongside the contestants while marveling at how insanely over-the-top the scenario is in reality. The production design employed here is truly outstanding and the presence of Taylor Russell is enough to give this film at least one respectable quality. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released a Blu-Ray featuring a pretty great A/V presentation and a couple of light special features. The main draw of seeing this at home is the ability to watch the wildly different Extended Version which changes the narrative but does not establish itself as a stronger film. This film is not great, but it is the type of fun that really hypnotizes when I need it. Recommended
Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.