After a year of limited theatrical releases, the movies are officially back. And as such, a number of new horror movies have arrived just in time for the holiday season, as moviegoers grow more comfortable in theaters. The latest of these new releases is Adam Robitel's Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, which is a sequel to his 2019 original. Ahead of the movie's release, the reviews for the Escape Room's follow-up have started rolling in. Let's see what folks thought of Robitel's sophomore installment.
We here at CinemaBlend never miss a horror movie, with our very own Eric Eisenberg seeing an advance screening of Escape Room: Tournament of Champions and writing his very own review. He gave the second installment in the burgeoning franchise 3 out of 5 stars, praising the scares and action while acknowledging that the movie requires one to truly suspend disbelief in regards to realism. As he put it,
The overall quality of the character development moves in the wrong direction from the first movie to the second in the burgeoning Escape Room series, but the undeniable feather in its cap is its successful endeavor to up the thrills in its set piece design. From a bank armed with powerful lasers, to a city street plagued by acid rain, to an electrified subway car, the puzzles are well-crafted and scary – regularly keeping the audience guessing and mostly operating logically and realistically. And while there is once again no blood or gore to speak of, that doesn’t stop the mechanics and circumstances from feeling consequential.
The overall premise of the Escape Room movies are pretty wild. Each trap involves giant set pieces, and it seems to be living outside the terms of reality. That same lack of concrete logic was touched by another review, written by The Wrap's William Bibbiani. An excerpt from the write-up reads:
Make no mistake: Escape Room: Tournament of Champions may be fun, it’s also incredibly stupid. The premise makes no sense. The mechanics make no sense. The plot makes no sense. Look elsewhere for storytelling sanity. Look here if you want to see confident, creepy absurdity, with a ghoulish imagination and showmanship to spare.
Given Escape Room's dangerous traps and penchant for killing off its cast, there have been a number of comparisons to the long-running torture porn franchise Saw-- which recently returned to theaters with Chris Rock's Spiral. But Jake Wilson's review for the Sydney Morning Herald actually praises Tournament of Champions for treating its characters with more empathy-- even if they still end up killed off. As they put it,
The noteworthy thing is the tone. This is not at all 'torture porn,' in the sense that dubious phrase is applied to Saw, nor anywhere near as cynical as The Hunger Games. The characters are always squabbling, there’s room to wonder what some of them may be hiding, and, as you’d expect, not all of them make it to the end. But along the way, we witness a good deal of genuine cooperation, loyalty and self-sacrifice – these are human beings, not rats in a trap.
But while there are some critics praising the treatment of Escape Room: Tournament of Champions' cast of seemingly doomed characters, others wanted to see each one given more backstory and depth. Specifically the fact that everyone involved in the new room had already survived their first Escape Room. And there is some great talent in the ensemble, including Pose standout Indya Moore. As AV Club's Jesse Hassenger wrote in his review:
Most disappointing: Not much is made of the Tournament Of Champions concept besides the ability to skip over characters’ initial confusion and disbelief—helpful, yes, but more a matter of expediency than creativity. It’s too bad, because both Escape Rooms share an unusual horror-movie strength: the dignity and empathy afforded the potential victims.
Regardless of its perceived flaws, the Escape Room movies are about just that: the wild, dangerous rooms which need to be conquered in order to survive. The AU Review's Peter Gray praised the thrilling action of Tournament of Champions, as well as the performance by Taylor Russell as protagonist Zoey.
Like the first Escape Room, Tournament of Champions has mainly been designed to indulge in the production values of the rooms themselves. The story has elements of interest, enough for me to want to know where it’s going and, at this point, expect a sequel, and the acting across the board is far better than what this type of film deserves; similar to the original, Russell makes for an immensely likeable lead, and though the rest of the cast are a little restricted by their character outlines, they manage to transcend such.
One of the most difficult parts in nailing a horror movie is sticking the landing of its finale. And the ending of Escape Room: Tournament of Champions was the subject of some discussion in the reviews. It seems the new horror movie ends in a way that so many do: by setting up a future sequel. As Blu-Ray.com's Brian Orndorf explained,
As with the first film, Tournament of Champions doesn’t have an ending. It offers the beginning of a second sequel instead, leaving audiences with another cliffhanger, which is dramatically unsatisfying and somewhat insulting to viewers paying to see a complete movie. Tournament of Champions improves on Escape Room in a few ways, delivering a middle act that’s loaded with hysterical sleuthing which resemble true gameplay, capturing the spirit of the cooperative event. Robitel doesn’t respect such a pure viewing experience, still working to make Escape Room an enduring horror franchise.
The horror genre is a unique one, with an absolutely rabid fanbase. As such, it should be interesting to see how moviegoing audiences respond to Escape Room: Tournament of Champions. The 2019 original found the audience and critic ratings nearly identical, so we'll just have to see if the sequel performs the same. And perhaps most importantly, how much money Escape Room 2 makes at the box office.
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions will hit theaters July 16th. In the meantime, check out the 2021 movie release dates to plan your next movie experience.