People of all backgrounds are invited to play for their lives as they unlock clues about their pasts and futures in the adrenaline-fueled essence of popular mystery-solving escape rooms. The life-defining and suspenseful mind-bending puzzles are highlighted in the new psychological thriller, ‘Escape Room,’ which was directed by horror mastermind, Adam Robitel, who previously helmed ‘Insidious: The Last Key‘ and ‘The Taking of Deborah Logan.’ The filmmaker once again delves into the emotional motivations that influence the hidden pain of everyone, even the most seemingly happy and successful individuals.
Bragi Schut and Maria Melnik wrote ‘Escape Room,’ which stars Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Jay Ellis, Tyler Labine, Nik Dodani and Yorick van Wageningen. The suspense drama is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital, including iTunes, Google Play and Vudu, courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The discs and Digital include such bonus material as an alternate opening and ending; deleted scenes; and four featurettes, including ‘Games, Set, Match,’ ‘The Lone Survivors’ and ‘Would You Ever Part 1 & 2.’
An intriguing invitation bring six strangers together in ‘Escape Room.’ Initially, they think they have gathered for a highly immersive escape room, but they soon make the sickening discovery that they are pawns in a sadistic game of life and death. Together, they move from one terrifying scenario to the next as they find clues and solve puzzles. But the players soon learn that exposing their darkest secrets may hold the key to survive.
Robitel generously took the time recently to talk about directing ‘Escape Room’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that he was drawn to helm the thriller, because he felt it was intriguing to make a horror movie that doesn’t heavily rely on gore, and is more of psychological thrill ride that explores the characters’ true natures. He also cherished the process of working with the crew, especially the production designer and cinematographer, to create unique visual aesthetics for each room.
The conversation began with Robitel explaining why he was drawn to bring Bragi and Maria’s story to the screen, and what his approach to directing the drama was like. “I was in post-production on ‘Insidious(: The Last Key)’ for Blumhouse, and I got a call from my agents. So I went to Neal Moritz’s office in Brentwood, and read the script. I was very poker face, as I didn’t know what an escape room was,” he admitted.
“So I told them I was interested, and then quickly went out and did a bunch of escape room. I saw how popular they are, and how visual they can be, which would help the art department. So I got really excited about what a movie about them could be like. They can transform so much, they can be their own character in a film,” the filmmaker pointed out.
The producers wanted to make a PG-13 movie about escape rooms that didn’t heavily rely on gore, and was more of psychological thrill ride. Robitel was excited about that unique take on the blend of the suspense, thriller and horror genres, and happily delved into further developing the story for a few more months after he signed on to helm ‘Escape Room.’ That process included making each of the characters’ backstories, emotions and motivations a puzzle.
The different escape rooms that are featured throughout the thriller helped drive the characters’ psychology throughout the story. With the majority of the plot taking place in the different title rooms, the director relished the process of working with the drama’s production designer, Ed Thomas, and cinematographer, Marc Spicerto, to create, and capture, the look of the rooms.
Robitel called the crew members incredibly talented, especially as they worked to give each room a different aesthetic. “When the characters are going into the cold, modern lobby that turns into an oven, for instance, I worked with Marc to embed lights into the structure and architecture of the room. We then go into the next sequences in the vents, which lead us into the cabin. So we lit that location like it was a Western,” the filmmaker shared. “So aesthetically, we were excited to make each room its own mini-movie.”
The helmer also expressed his appreciation over the way that Melnik layered so many details into the story. “Each clue path had to lead to the next one that really made sense and was coherent. So the whole process was a collaboration between our production designer, DP (Director of Photography) and writer,” he noted.
The drama also features an impressive ensemble in front of the camera. One of Robitel’s mantras is to do whatever it takes to find the right actor for each role. He admitted that finding the right actress to play Zoey was difficult, because the character “is vulnerable and quiet in the beginning of the film. She eventually comes into her strength throughout the story. I think there are a lot of people who related to her. So that was a really important casting choice,” the filmmaker explained.
Tamara Hunter worked on the casting for ‘Escape Room,’ on behalf of Sony, and Robitel called her process of finding the right performer for each role amazing. Hunter helped bring in Woll, who rose to fame on ‘True Blood.’ “Deborah Ann crushed the audition, and we had to do some gymnastics to get her,” Robitel shared.
The director added that “We also worked to get Jay Ellis, who’s such a charming and sweet guy. We also wanted to get Logan Miller, because he’s so funny. Nik Dodani is also so hilarious, and really brought something special to the role of Danny. Tyler Labine is also a hilarious everyman; I loved him in ‘Tucker and Dale vs Evil.'”
Once the actors were cast in ‘Escape Room,’ the filmmaker “had a good bit of rehearsal time on the set. Sometimes, the set was in the process of being built, so the rehearsals were smaller. We would shoot for five days, and then on the sixth day, Saturday, we would go to the set, and really block out the strokes for the next week.”
There was a lot of choreography that had to be blocked, as the props and clues that the characters had to find on their journey were spread out throughout each room. While the cast worked with Robitel on the blocking and choreography for more of the bigger sequences in advance, they also worked out the smaller elements while they were filming. “It was a give-and-take with the actors; if things weren’t working out on the day, they would talk it out on the set, and find a solution that everyone could get behind,” the helmer shared.
With ‘Escape Room’ now available on home release, Robitel is working on a sequel to the drama. “We’re fast at work; we’ve already brought our production designer on to start doing some developments on the rooms. We have a tall order to outdo ourselves from the first movie, on which we used such elements as ice, gravity and poisonous gas. We’re asking ourselves how we can kill people in five or six rooms, and it’s tricky, because we don’t want to use gore,” he revealed. “But we’re exploring some creepy ways for people to die, and hopefully, the audiences will dig it!”