ESCAPE ROOM (2019)
Director: Adam Robitel
Notable Cast: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, Nik Dodani, Kenneth Fok, Yorick van Wageningen
After the cult status that The Taking of Deborah Logan reached quickly within horror circles, director Adam Robitel almost immediately became a name to watch. When his second film, the fourth Insidious feature, became a box office hit, it seemed as though Robitel was not some kind of one trick pony. He had style, a knack for creating tension, and horror fans were willing to stand by his work. His latest film, Escape Room, looked to be Sony’s next bid for a yearly horror franchise in terms of both mainstream appeal and fantastic gimmick. With Robitel at the helm, there was a great chance that they might be able to pull it off even if the concept seems a bit eye-rolling on the surface.
If anything, Escape Room not only makes a strong statement for a new yearly horror franchise with its Cube inspired puzzle meets trap solving exercises and its fantastic use of an ensemble cast, but it allows Robitel and company make a highly entertaining film to stand on its own. Most of this is due to the impressive use of sets and the director’s knack for creating tension and suspenseful thrills out of some of the most asinine scripting elements. While the overall world building, about a secret organization that has seemingly brought together six strangers to survive increasingly strange and outlandish Escape Rooms, is fairly ungrounded and occasionally formulaic for horror fans to experience, the execution brings it back home to sell the entire thing. There are multiple set pieces that are instantly memorable and Escape Room makes use of the concept impressively well. In particular, there is an ‘upside-down room’ sequence that is both fascinating to watch as the characters attempt to survive the traps and solve the puzzles, but it’s shot in a way that’s wholly disorienting and fascinatingly well-paced. Throw in some rather stock, but fun characters to watch as they try to navigate their own past assumptions about everything and one another and we have a highly entertaining horror film runs with its strengths.
Considering the decent box office and threaded plotting for a sequel, Escape Room is primed for the franchise it was obviously crafted to kick off. Although the film leans towards fringe horror than anything, since it shies away form showing the violence and instead focuses on the fun visuals and thrills of its pacing, this is a franchise that I am more than willing to follow. Particularly if Robitel stays on board to direct. It sounds like both are going to be happening, so you know that I will be in the theater next year when it comes out.
RUST CREEK (2019)
Director: Jen McGowan
Notable Cast: Hermione Corfield, Jay Paulson, Sean O’Bryan, Micah Hauptman, Jeremy Glazer, Daniel R. Hill, John Marshall Jones, Denise Dal Vera, Laura Guzman, Virginia Schneider
IFC Midnight did a great job of marketing Rust Creek when it first premiered, using the strong initial reviews of the film to spin a campaign that the film was the first great indie survival horror film of the year. In a way, they aren’t wrong. Rust Creek is a fantastic film. It has a great sense of grounded reality to some great performances, the tension is tight and effective, and the film loves to play with its audience in its narrative. However, calling it survival horror might be a stretch. Now before I get lambasted with people pulling the genre card on me, I keep a pretty open mind to what horror cinema can be interpreted as. While the film certainly uses some survival horror elements, particularly in the first act, it’s pretty light and definitely on the very outskirts of the genre. It’s just fair warning for those who might carry in the wrong expectations. If I was to label it anything, I would call Rust Creek a brilliant dark thriller.
With that bit of context out of the way, Rust Creek is able to dig its heels into its concept and deliver some truly intense and surprisingly thoughtful cinema. It very much starts off as though it’s going to be the survival horror that it was marketed as, when our young heroine finds herself lost in the backwoods and two crass and creepy guys try to take advantage of her. The resulting survival sequence, with her in the woods on the run from these two guys looking to make sure she stays lost, is of the usual variety. It’s impeccably well made though as it doubles down on the reality of the situation starts to build its characters through it. However, Rust Creek is not content in staying in the formula and starts to deviate quite a bit in the second half to some surprising results. It plays on the audiences’ expectations, layers in a bit of more traditional thriller elements, and never pulls away from the characters. To give too much more away would be detrimental to the experience, but the choices that director McGowan makes, the strong and nuanced performances, along with how the tension and pops of thrills unfold make it quite the impressive watch.
Although Rust Creek will probably still fly under the radar as the year goes on because it refuses to sell itself out to wild style or gimmicks, it should be one that genre fans should check out. It’s realism, performances, and strong detailed direction make it a sleeper hit in quality for the year. Rust Creek comes highly recommended.
Written By Matt Reifschneider