Escape Room movies as a subgenre of survival horror/thriller have made their mark in the last two decades, ever since the Saw franchise garnered a cult following, and have their roots in platform survival games popularized in the late 1980s. In general, the plot of such movies revolves around a group of people getting trapped in maze-like settings, willingly or not, and their efforts to get out of increasingly difficult entrapments with their lives on the line most of the time.
In some of the memorable entries of the genre, psychological complexities become synonymous with entrapments and brutalities, and escape is equated with a release from the comfort zone that hinders human potential. No Escape Room, the 2018 movie of the eponymous subgenre, starts off well, managing to build up the intrigue using a particular theme, but never quite takes off, and by the end, you’ll think the makers of No Escape Room were as confused as the characters while planning out the venture.
How Did Michael And Karen Reach The Escape Room?
No Escape Room begins with a tongue-in-cheek suggestion about the supposed nature of the genre, as a phone screen reveals Karen, a teenage girl, asking her friend to rescue her from her father, Michael. Having very little time to spare from his busy life, Michael wants to spend the day with his daughter, who is clearly not as interested as she has outgrown the simplistic fun of younger days. However, even while staying fixated on her phone screen, she was still hoping to go horseback riding with her father and was bummed out after driving to the ranch only to see it closed. Michael tries to initiate a conversation with his daughter, but to no avail, as her flippant teenage attitude is something he hasn’t managed to navigate. He asks her about the necklace he had given her, presuming that she liked it, only to get an insufferable sigh in reply.
Their car breaks down near a small town, and while helping out her dad, an utterly negligent Karen almost gets run over by a speeding truck. However, somehow reaching a nearby diner, the duo entrusts their car to a mechanic for repair while speculating what their course of action should be to have some fun in the meantime. Looking through a local newspaper, Michael comes across an advertisement about an Escape Room in a nearby location—something Karen had previously wished to try out. Initially, Karen wasn’t too sure, as whatever she had heard about this new amusement activity from her friends was set in lavish places like San Francisco. On the contrary, in a hushed countryside place like this, the closest she can expect to an escape room is a shady garage. Michael asks the inn’s waitress, Betsy, about the details of the place. Betsy initially portrays a rather grim, ominous picture of the said location, even stating that people who visit there never come back, only to laugh out loud to release the tension, revealing that she was just pulling a prank. After Betsy’s assurance about visiting the place, Karen reluctantly agrees to go there.
Karen goes to the diner’s restroom to wipe off stains from her sweatshirt and decides to wear the necklace given to her by her father. However, along with the sudden light malfunction, a sound coming out of a slightly opened nearby bathroom stall creeps her out. Karen moves towards the source of the sound when Betsy barges in from a stall beside her. Karen, not pondering too much about the incident, goes on in her usual way.
Who Are The Rest Of The Contenders For The Escape Room? What Are The Games’ Rules?
Karen and Michael reach the specified location and come across a Victorian-style villa. Upon knocking, no one answers the door, and it opens on its own. At the foyer, the duo is greeted by the hostess of the house/game, Josie, in a sudden and shocking manner and is taken to the rest of the game’s contenders for that given day. A young couple, Melanie and Tyler, out of whom Melanie is the adventurous-spirited one while Tyler is the cowardly one, and Andrew, a seemingly mysterious person in his 30s, are the other three contenders in the game. Josie, herself dressed in Victorian attire, presents a similarly fashioned liability waiver written in parchment scrolls to each of the contenders, a customary procedure that is usually provided in risk-taking activities. She also serves them a ridiculously steaming beverage, which Melanie identifies as chai tea (it seems like none of them saw Into The Spider-Verse, if you know what I mean). Michael is skeptical about drinking it but follows suit when others convince him it is a part of the game’s process. Josie also states that contenders have to give away their electronic belongings, such as mobiles and other devices, in order to prevent spoiling the exclusivity of the place to the outside world. Tyler isn’t willing to do so, but after a while, he hands over his phone.
Josie shows the trio a preparatory video montage using an old projector in order to define the quest and set the mood of the game. The video showcases visceral, undefined clippings containing vivid images of death, violence, and dark forces at work, which indicate the house to be a breeding ground for unknown evil. A certain inventor, who resided in the house, was at the root of all these situations as he experimented with the occult to challenge the notions of death, and five townsfolk were sent to investigate the situation at the house. The townsfolk were never heard of again, and it is the duty of the contenders to find them out by venturing into the Escape room within one hour. If they ever feel uncomfortable continuing the game, the safe word awake needs to be uttered, and they will be taken out of the house.
What Did The Contestants Learn About The Nature Of The Place?
As the game begins, the group is locked inside a room filled with various antiques, and they realize that to rescue the aforementioned people, they need to look for clues among the various items scattered around. Andrew identifies South American indigenous tribal iconographies in the room: the Ayahuasca potion and shaman masks of the dead. Karen finds a gramophone record of her favorite band, which she plays on a gramophone lying nearby, and listens to its tunes. Melanie rearranges the patterns of the masks in the correct order. This triggers the room’s mechanism, and a combination locker is revealed.
In order to unlock the combination, the group searches for numbered items, and Andrew accidentally turns on a UV lamp, which shows a set of numbers written on each of the masks. Using the combination, they manage to open the locker, where they find a key that leads them to an adjacent locked room. In the meantime, looking through one of the masks, Tyler sees unsettling images and gets startled. In the second room, a number of devices from yesteryear, like old telephones, typewriters, and grandfather clocks, are stashed, which Andrew somehow connects with the theme of death they witnessed in the last room. Melanie listens to the telephone and is able to hear her own voice, although it says an entirely different thing than what she is uttering. The other voice asks for Tyler, and as he attends the call, he is warned to leave the place. Right after the other side hangs up, Tyler once again gets haunted by eerie images and is unwilling to continue the game further. Melanie and others try to persuade him to carry on, considering the entire thing to be a really well-made set-up, but Tyler is adamant about terminating his participation. He utters the safe word awake, which opens one of the doors in the room, and he exits.
However, the rest of the team decides to continue in Tyler’s absence, and using number clues from the grandfather clock and typewriter, they manage to open a closet, where they discover a bloodied Josie lying. Josie warns them, stating that the inventor has returned to the house and none of them are safe unless they find out the master key. Still considering the situation as part of the act, Melanie and Andrew seem unfazed, but Michael is disturbed and considers getting out of the game with her daughter.
Did Karen And Michael Finally Get Free?
Michael shouts, using the safe word to no avail, and finds all of the doors to be closed. Due to her short stature advantage, Karen offers to go through the door skylight to move towards the other side to find a way to open the lock. Karen goes to the other side, but as she enters the door to the basement, she gets locked, and the second room opens, freeing Melanie, Andrew, and Michael. The trio comes across a drape-filled room where a projector is playing, and once again, using number clues, they find another key to go to the villa’s inside quarters. However, Melanie sees the projector highlighting her in real time on screen and gets distracted enough to get separated from the other two. Melanie tries to get out of the room, only to discover that she has been stuck in a spatial state with no way to go outside the room. Now, fear starts creeping in on her, which reaches its worst form when she discovers Tyler hidden among the drapes, who has been hanged to death. A telephone starts ringing, and as she tearfully attends the call, she realizes that it is the present version of her who was talking with her past self when she was in the second room, and she tries to warn Tyler, to no avail. Soon, a number of shadows start spooking her out, and as she tries to reach the attic using a broken ladder, she accidentally falls and gets impaled to death.
On the other hand, Karen reaches the basement, where horrifying objects and iconographies start to enter her mind. Seeing a corpse, which she considers to be Josie, Karen almost breaks down and decides to hide inside a cellar when she notices a presence trying to enter through the basement door. On the upper level, Michael desperately tries to find out about his daughter and gets sucked inside an eerie portrait, which takes him to the outside world to be entrapped in the vivid imagination of a drowned girl. The scenario seems to be a hallucination, but Michael finds out he was present at the place in the portrait in real-time.
Andrew comes to Karen’s rescue, and after finding a key, the duo starts to traverse through the underpass, when suddenly, Andrew is pulled by some unknown force and gets killed. A terrified Karen continues to move forward and reaches the projector room, where Michael has ended up as well. Seeing the timer malfunctioning, along with unseen forces creating a turbulent atmosphere, Michael makes a last-ditch attempt to flee by reworking through all the past clues, and they reach the second room. Karen had glanced over one of the anatomy journals in the basement, which hinted about the master key being inside a woman’s belly. Using this clue, Michael recovers a key by putting his hand right through Josie’s wound. The duo rushes to the main door, and as they open it using the master key, they end up inside the aforementioned diner’s restroom. It seems they have finally managed to escape their nightmare after all.
However, hearing oncoming footsteps, the duo hides inside one of the stalls, and as they peep through the door, they are shocked out of their wits to see Karen, the past version of herself, wiping her stains and wearing the necklace. The presence that frightened Karen previously was none other than her and her father’s future versions. After past Karen exits, the future, or should we say present, version of Karen and Michael sneak out of the diner and find out their car is being fixed outside. Having no explanation of the events that they witnessed and experienced, the duo decides to leave that particular matter for later discussion and hop on their ride to get away from the place once and for all. Finally, they come to their senses after seeing every mechanism of the car fixated with locks, the likes of which they saw inside the house, signifying there is no escape from the horrid existence of the loop they have been put inside. Once again, the trigger starts working, and as the camera shifts to the house, it is implied that the house is once again reset to invite more hapless victims.
The addition of a supernatural element and spatial/temporal loop sci-fi could have turned No Escape Room into a decent flick after all if it had been handled carefully. Unfortunately, the utter confusion perceived with the makers failing to stick to the faithful treatment of any one of the routes made the later half of the movie jarring, inexplicable, and boring. Are Karen or Michael even alive, or was the entire ordeal a ‘chai-tea-induced’ hallucination? We cannot tell, given the open-ended nature of No Escape Room, but the ambiguity never turns out to be enjoyable at all.