By John Mulderig | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — The horror sequel “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” (Columbia) turns out to be a case of cinematic recidivism.
Thus, on screen, the seemingly invisible yet vastly powerful corporation that tormented an ensemble of characters in the 2019 original is once again up to its old tricks. For the audience, meantime, the vague sadism of the kickoff is still discernible as the filmmakers behind this follow-up rinse and repeat.
Screenwriters Will Honley, Maria Melnik and Daniel Tuch do at least show consideration for those who evaded the first movie. Flashbacks reintroduce us to the two survivors of the gauntlet that picture charted, now loyal-for-life pals Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller).
The duo was among those lured into what they thought was a conventional version of the titular competition, the only downside of which seemed to consist in not winning the $10,000 prize ostensibly on offer. Instead, the conglomerate subjected them to deadly peril for the entertainment of their one-percenter clients, and they were forced to rely on their ingenuity to emerge in one piece.
Zoey is intent on exposing the company, which she believes is based in New York City, and Ben goes along for the ride — if only for the sake of friendship. But the pair’s quest ends with them trapped in a Gotham subway car on which their fellow passengers, it develops, are all, like themselves, veteran victims of the cruel ruse. And so it’s on to the next round of potentially deadly ordeals.
The presence in the newly formed group of Nathan (Thomas Cocquerel), a well-meaning, though imprudent, priest, may prove mildly interesting to believers. In his first passage through the wringer, Nathan explains, all the participants were clergymen, the idea being to see how their faith would affect their behavior under stress.
As helmed by returning director Adam Robitel, the proceedings mix marginally clever deduction with barely contained hysteria while the script weighs altruism against self-preservation. But the real agenda, of course, involves watching our modern-day gladiators scramble to avoid being electrocuted, burned by lasers or buried alive.
The fates of those lost along the way are depicted discreetly. But there’s still something unsavory about the basic premise of the franchise since it makes viewers complicit in the very life-cheapening spectacle the narrative condemns.
The film contains much stylized violence, some gory wounds, a few uses of profanity, about a half-dozen milder oaths, at least one rough term and pervasive crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.