PLOT: Once again, a group of people discovers that they are part of a deadly game where strangers must figure out how to get out of a deadly escape room. This time, however, they all have something new that connects them all together.
REVIEW: Director Adam Robitel surprised audiences with his taut little thriller Escape Room in 2019. Due to the box office success of the first feature, it was clear that we weren’t going to escape from a sequel. And in 2021, the story continues in ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS. With a small handful of familiar faces and a slew of new actors including, Thomas Cocquerel, Holland Roden, Indya Moore, and Carlito Olivero, the sequel also brings new rules, new puzzles, and once again, a very deadly game into play. Thankfully, one of the most successful elements from the first film is back, and that is the casting of both Taylor Russell and Logan Miller. The two were terrific in the previous feature, and they’re equally engaging here.
After the trauma of the horrific Escape Room from before, Zoey Davis (Russell) is having trouble adjusting to the world around her. The young survivor is seeing a psychiatrist who is attempting to help her move on. Yet even the doctor seems to think her patients’ paranoia is out of control. As well, Zoey’s refusing to get back on a plane, which doesn’t help her case with the good doctor. No matter what her doctor says, Zoey’s convinced the creators of the deadly game haven’t gone away. It certainly doesn’t help that the police didn’t find a shred of evidence to back up her previous tale. Hoping to get answers and see what is going on, she convinces fellow survivor Ben Miller (Miller) to join her on a road trip to see if she truly is crazy. Once they arrive at the possible location for a new escape room, a drug addict steals her necklace and them on a chase to a subway station. It’s one subway stop they’re going to wish they never made.
Perhaps the trickiest thing about a sequel to Escape Room is trying to bring something new to the mix. And yes, at times, they do offer something original to the story. Much of this comes in the final act after a couple of twists and turns are revealed. However, the film is far more successful as it takes on the familiar aspects of the original. It’s all about the sets that include a subway train, a creepy beach setting, and an upscale bank where you need to watch every step you make. There is enough suspense and thrills as they find their way out of a few very messed-up situations. And like the original, one by one, somebody makes a mistake that costs them their life – although the bloodless kills are a bit more frustrating with this installment. Can’t they at least give us one money shot in this PG-13 series?
Robitel – an actor himself – is quite good at gathering a cast together that allows you to find a bit of sympathy. Both Taylor Russell and Logan Miller are terrific as two people getting pulled into another deadly game. As well, the new cast members are good at conveying the terror they face here. And considering the film’s title includes the term Tournament of Champions, you can perhaps guess that each of the new players is well aware of this frightening life and death scenario. The introduction to the new players is clever and is frankly far more intense than you may expect. Even with the bloodless kills, there is still a sense of urgency as the players desperately try to figure out the clues to escape. It’s a fun concept, especially for those that may find the Saw series a bit too much to handle.
As entertaining as the first couple of acts can be, the sequel falls apart near the end. It’s not a terrible conclusion by any stretch, yet the not-so-subtle hint that this is not the end is groan-inducing. It includes the reveal of another character from the previous film and the aftermath of the final room. All of which makes the third act all too predictable and unnecessary. It was clear they are trying to make this world even bigger and more menacing, but the build-up, in the end, is so overly dramatic that it lacks the tension found in the earlier sequences. It’s easy to appreciate much of what this occasionally capable sequel has to offer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite live up to the first film as an inventive new horror franchise, more of a tired retread of a decent indie thriller.
The thought of recommending Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is tricky. If you enjoyed the first film and you don’t mind more of the same until its bloated final act, you’ll probably have fun with this. Yet if the lackluster on-screen kills and the monotony of watching people hunt for clues isn’t a thrill, you’ll be better off to wait and catch it on Netflix. Ultimately, I appreciate what Adam Robitel has to offer as a director. There is tension and suspense here, and for the most part, the characters were compelling enough. When this makes up for its small budget and a sequel is prepared, perhaps they can flesh out the story in a more exciting way. And yes, there’s enough here that I’d be curious to see where they’d go for a third film. Even still, while this sequel starts off hitting all the right notes, its overly ridiculous finale doesn’t do it any favors.