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Escape Room: Tournament of Champions Review

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Escape Room: Tournament of Champions debuts on Friday, July 16, in U.S. theaters.

What if an escape room were a life-and-death game? That was the simple but effective premise of the 2019 horror hit Escape Room. Competing for a big cash prize, puzzle enthusiasts reported to the mysterious Minos company only to find themselves pitched into a lethal labyrinth. Defying the odds, two survived but found that their prize was not cash — just trauma. Now, this disturbed duo is roped back into this grim game with Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, a savage sequel lacking in smarts, character development and suspense.

Taylor Russell returns as orphaned quiz kid Zoey, while Logan Miller reprises the role of Ben, a drunken stock boy who has cleaned up and crushes hard on the haunted heroine. Determined to expose Minos, Zoey drags Ben to the company’s hidden Manhattan headquarters. Despite knowing they’re dealing with an evil organization with obscene wealth, insane strategies, and an insatiable thirst for suffering, the scrappy young heroes barge in without a plan. And this is just the first eyeroll-worthy leap of logic this stupid sequel makes.

When it comes to horror movies, suspension of disbelief is regularly surrendered with ease. We accept that the sorority sister runs up the stairs instead of outside the door. We agree that slashers can be decapitated but come back for a sequel. We cheer when Jaws gets blown to bits by some dubious MacGyvering because we’re on board for the adventure. Escape Room established a world where a mighty evil corporation could pull off nightmarish mazes that bordered on the impossible. So, we accept that a subway car can dump its rattled riders onto a subterranean bank floor, which leads to a sandy seaside beach, and beyond. However, the first film also established that Zoey and Ben were incredibly clever people. So why is their very first move against their malevolent game masters so deeply dumb?

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions will not justify this pivotal decision beyond trauma. Indeed, trauma is the special seasoning that’s liberally sprinkled over the entire cast of characters. It’s as if physical scars, scowls, and hastily delivered tragic backstories are a solid substitute for character development. In the first film, director Adam Robitel (who also helms this sequel) offered enough time to get a beat on the stock types of the puzzle solvers. So, we swiftly knew to root for the wide-eyed sad girl and the noble veteran (Deborah Ann Woll) and keep an eye on the smug finance bro (Jay Ellis). This time around, the script (by Will Honley, Maria Melnik, and Daniel Tuch) doesn’t even give us the names of this new batch of contestants before one of them is unceremoniously slaughtered. All you need to know is they’ve all played a Minos maze before, so they know the score and to be scared.

Best Horror Movie of 2020

The puzzles themselves are treated with just as little care. Sure, they’re surprising in their settings and full of traps that make for grisly kills (or at least as grisly as you can get with a PG-13 rating). However, there’s no opportunity for the audience to play along. The frantic pacing of the film allows no time for our eyes to explore the frame for clues. Instead, this Scooby Crew hurdles themselves from one wild-guess to the next, setting off boobytraps and reciting what they’re doing in case we’d miss it. “The room is filling with water!” “The tile set off a laser!” “There’s a key!” Lines like this make up much of the dialogue, and are most often hollered at top volume. Forget the screenwriting advice “show, don’t tell.” This frenzied thriller opts for “Scream, don’t show.”

It’s as if Robitel also had a sinister affluent overlord who demanded this puzzle pic finish under 90 minutes or else! To make that deadline, sacrifices must be made. The first to die was any logic about the inciting incident. Next felled would be any attempt at worthwhile character development. So, we’re saddled with hastily sketched wife-guy (Carlito Olivero), drunk priest (Thomas Cocquerel), girl with scar (Indya Moore), and girl with emo-eyeliner (Holland Roden). Even the showcase scares suffer. Creepy settings are barely established before the threat hits. Thus, the resulting deaths feel abrupt and frankly anti-climactic. Yet the real killer of sustained suspense is the dreadful suspicion there can be no winning this game.

The first to die was any logic about the inciting incident.


In the first film, Zoey and Ben got out by the skin of their teeth, because they learned Minos doesn’t play fair. Zoey talks endlessly about how Minos won’t let them live to expose its secrets. The Tournament of Champions premise, which thrusts survivors into another deadly game against their will, supports the idea that there can truly be no escape. All that might have been setting up a haunting commentary on trauma, but this movie doesn’t dare get that deep. There’s just no time. Instead, this atmosphere of dread flattens what might have been fun. The movie itself seems to smirk smugly at those who fight to survive.

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