Escape Room: Tournament of Champions
2021, PG-13, 88 min. Directed by Adam Robitel. Starring Logan Miller, Indya Moore, Thomas Cocquerel, Holland Roden, Carlito Olivero.
REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., July 23, 2021
Back in 2019, Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) surprised audiences with a smart piece of PG-13 horror. Escape Room was one-part Saw and one-part Cube, an innovative series of thrilling set-pieces that transcended its modest premise and January release date. And when the first film went on to wildly overperform at the box office, it was only a matter of time before the studio greenlit a sequel. Enter Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, the 2021 sequel that returns its director and two stars for another run at Rube Goldberg-esque carnage.
After surviving the events of the first film – events that Tournament of Champions helpfully recaps in its opening minutes – Zoey (Russell) and Ben (Miller) have one goal: Expose the corporation that put them through so much pain and suffering. When the two travel to New York City to chase down a promising lead, they soon find themselves forced back into escape room carnage with a group of fellow survivors. But this time, Zoey is determined to play by her own rules. She will expose the evil Minos corporation and get justice for those who have died – or give up her own life in the process.
One of the challenges of any sequel is deciding how far to push the premise. Take too many risks and you may lose the magic formula that made the original a success; play it too safe and you offer your audience nothing but diminishing returns. For Tournament of Champions, director Robitel and his writers took the second path – and it mostly works. Just as with the first film, the appeal of the sequel is in its imaginative set pieces. From the opening salvo aboard a runaway subway car to a searing brush with acid rain, the film lives up to the expectations set in Robitel’s first outing.
But more time spent in escape rooms means less time advancing the narrative, and there are times when Tournament of Champions seems to spin its wheels. Thankfully, the film maintains the same unsentimental streak as the original, demonstrating a willingness to murder characters with a coldness that would make even veteran horror fans smile. But for a franchise with so much potential for capital-M Mythology, it’s hard not to want more out of the characters and their relationship to the world. At some point, the franchise is going to have to make some decisions about the faceless corporation that seems to be calling all the shots.
Ultimately, Tournament of Champions remains a welcome balance of YA and horror, featuring inventive puzzle sequences with enough talent on both sides of the camera to consistently entertain. If, as the ending suggests, we are headed for a third feature, then one hopes Robitel and company will take a few bigger narrative swings to match their boundless imagination. Then again, if the Escape Room franchise has hit its ceiling, it is still far more engaging – and far more creative – than the horror films most multiplex audiences have to choose from.