WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Escape Room, in theaters now.
Adam Robitel's Escape Room focuses on six strangers invited to compete in what they believe to be your typical trapped-in-a-room contest. However, it's not as simple as solving a few puzzles and walking out a door, because the adventure actually consists of a series of immersive escape rooms.
Seeing as the traps are downright deadly, the team has to put aside personalities, idiosyncrasies and other differences, using their wits and banding together in order to survive. But while it's obviously structured like other movies, from Cube to Exam, when Escape Room hits its final act, it's clear this movie is actually aiming to become the next Saw franchise.
Like it or not, Saw is one of Hollywood's most popular horror franchises of all time, spanning eight movies over 13 years. It started with a short film, which was expanded into the first movie in 2004 (both from director James Wan) and grew into a pop culture phenomenon, typically releasing new installments around Halloween. It went on to become one of the top five highest-grossing horror franchises ever, and with its sadistic era now over, Escape Room tosses its name into the ring to take its place.
What makes Escape Room a natural successor is that has a villain that's almost a carbon copy of Jigsaw, not in terms of look, but personality. The Puzzle Builder oversees the construction of all the escape rooms, which constitute one big game. Like Jigsaw, he sets up these challenges and acts as a voyeur. He does differ in that he employs various Game Masters who directly oversee proceedings and a rich audience he sells this live content to. While he's doing it for pleasure, as opposed to Jigsaw who had a personal issue with his victims, the comparison still stands based on how they toy with their victims.
Some might even say that Escape Room brazenly rips off Saw, considering the final line of the film is the Puzzle Builder (a shadowy figure on a big screen) saying, "Let's play again" in a muffled voice. It's a direct tribute to Jigsaw's iconic line, "Let's play a game," leaving you wondering for a moment if it's Tobin Bell's character back for a final game. The way he remains hidden, too, evokes memories of when Jigsaw sent out his creepy doll on its tricycle, its distorted voice haunting participants of his game.
If you've ever watched a Saw movie and really wished there wasn't any blood and gore, Escape Room is the film for you, though with games that are bigger and more elaborate than Jigsaw's traps. Robitel pays more attention to detail than Wan and subsequent Saw directors, while making his rooms and traps massively expansive -- turning a lounge into a giant oven, flipping an entire room upside down, or tossing victims into a frozen lake setting to die from hypothermia.
Another difference is how the Puzzle Builder plays the long game, bent on watching victims suffer over extended periods of time, as opposed to Jigsaw, who gives you a few minutes before your head explodes or something stabs you. Escape Room is both less bloody and far more cerebral. Instead of Jigsaw with a cult, you've got the Puzzle Builder with an engineering firm, programmers, software developers and cities all bought out so he can carry out this twisted vision. That's not to say the Puzzle Builder doesn't have knives, poisonous gases, and the tools to turn his competitors against each other; he does, but he prefers technology and spectacle to mindless gore.
Ultimately, there are a lot more puzzles to solve and it's a tropey flick, but with escape rooms a fad all over the world at present, it stands to reason a studio would want to turn this into the next big horror franchise. Even better, one that doesn't make some members to the audience squeamish, or running to the restroom to throw up.
Adam Robitel's Escape Room, starring Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis and Nik Dodani as Danny, is in theaters now.