Before every top floor of a bar was transformed into an escape room marketed towards offices seeking team-building exercises, there were the claustrophobic movies that sparked them.
2019’s Escape Room proved a big hit revealing one of the most terrifying tales of a group trapped inside a puzzle. Its newly released sequel Escape Room: Tournament of Champions purports to build on the theme. If you liked the idea of terror being derived from life-dependant-puzzle-solving, then lucky you: there are lots of them. Think just hard enough, and scads of your favorites feel like an escape room; find the missing parts to fix the car and escape camp before getting killed by Jason Voorhees, follow Willy Wonka’s cryptic rules to get out of the chocolate factory alive, and so on.
Whatever your mood, we’ve got an escape room movie sure to captivate.
Seeking Something Your Friends Have Probably Seen?
Saw (2004) is the escape room old faithful. This whole list could just be a chronicle of that franchise, but let’s just set you off on the right path with the first installment. The Saw canon is full up with some of the scariest, goriest, most difficult escape games and challenges horror films have ever seen. This one keeps it nice and simple; get out or else. There’s a distinct lack of gore in James Wan’s start to this franchise giant; much of the focus is on Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes) trying to solve the puzzles and GTFO. Things glow in the dark. Clues are hidden on toilets, and at some point, someone has to saw off a foot. You’ll be squinting to solve the puzzles and will absolutely be able to call someone to chat about it because they’ve for sure seen it.
Feeling Wacky AF?
Takashi Miike’s bananas banger from 2014, As the Gods Will, is nothing if not unexpected. The Japanese filmmaker is certainly known for bringing the terror with films like Audition and Ichi the Killer, but the dude’s filmography is vast. Sometimes, he gets wacky, and As the Gods Will will have you wondering “WTF?” the entire way through. Shun (Sota Fukushi) fills his time playing video games, and one day, he finds himself smack in the middle of a live one. His school has been overtaken by a mysterious entity that demands students take part in deadly games for survival. It’s maybe not as terrifying as Miike’s most famous slate, but the school chums play basketball against gigantic mice. So, it’s pretty dope.
Bad Day at the Office?
Greg McLean’s 2016 offering, The Belko Experiment is arguably the best follower of Battle Royale. This feature fathoms an office turned into a combat zone. An unsuspecting group of colleagues working in a remote Colombian office are suddenly gated inside and given grim instructions; kill your co-workers or die. What sets off is a gruesome game of death that pits every employee at every level against each other. Factions form between executives and lower-level grunts, making interesting comments on cool-guy-middle-management allegiance. If you’ve ever dreamt of grabbing your stapler to bash in the skull of the guy who calls you from the golf course to check on your productivity, this might be a preferable outlet.
This Lockdown Has Gone on Long Enough
You’re gonna wanna watch Johnny Kevorkian’s Await Further Instructions. We’ve all experienced different levels of the lockdown and transition to the do-everything-from-home lifestyle. Some of us are trapped solo in condos with a laptops, some with large families but hopefully, a backyard. If you dare to face that stress head-on, this 2018 scary movie might be the one for you. During a Christmas gathering, a family wakes up to find themselves surrounded by a mysterious goo. Tensions are already high from complicated “political” conversations. The terror is certainly layered with how rapidly everyone wants to leave. They flick on their TV to discover a list of vague instructions from a mysterious source. They must stay inside and do as they’re told. They’re trapped in the house, forced to inject experimental vaccines, and sometimes, remove appendages. “Escapism” might not be the best way to describe this one, but it will surely be cathartic.
Spare me the Blood, Give me the Math
Can you solve for Vincenzo Natali’s Cube? Lots of the best escape movies are named for shapes, don’t ask me why. (Check out Circle below and we’ll save Triangle for the next list). Before Saw 2 pondered what might happen if seemingly unrelated strangers were suddenly trapped in a barely possible game of death, this 1997 movie did it with much less blood and a leaner budget. Finding themselves stuck in a mysterious box, a group of people is forced to solve puzzles as a means of saving their own lives. There are interesting ethical conundrums about the value of certain lives and the movie will have you guessing who’s duplicitous through to the end. This Canadian terror must have struck a chord abroad, as a Japanese remake is set to drop this year.
Riddle Me This
In Stuart Hazeldine’s Exam, eight candidates are chasing a high-profile gig. Their final test seems easy enough. They’re given vague and cryptic instructions, a blank page, and eighty minutes. Tensions flare as the competitive A-types are pitted against each other to pass the test and exit the room. They’re set off by the ambiguous references to a question and how to circumvent the simple rules given by the invigilator. There are references made to a pandemic but truly, ignore it, you deserve to focus on the sprinklers, fires, blood, and riddles of this game instead. Also, this was nominated for a BAFTA, so don’t just take my word for it.
Gimme Hot People with Cool Weapons
In Ready or Not, Samara Weaving cemented her place as the scream queen. This 2019 gem puts her with Adam Brody, Andie MacDowell, and a truly expansive cast of characters that slay it in this horror-comedy. Grace (Weaving) has just married into a wealthy family of board game designers and learns she must play a game to officially enter the clan. Hide and seek seems a cute option. But this game isn’t what it seems. To survive the night, she must escape the house before the eccentric rich people kill her (something to do with appeasing a wealth-granting demon). Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet, the directing pair behind this one, just wrapped shooting on Scream and though we’re worried about a post-Wes Craven landscape, this flick should instill lots of confidence.
Democracy Seems Complicated
What if you could vote on who lived or died? In Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione’s Circle fifty people must reckon with that question. A group of strangers wakes up in a room, standing on circles. At timed intervals, a random circle delivers a shock that kills whoever is on it. The group quickly realizes they can select who will be next, and they set off analyzing the value of human lives, each with their own code of ethics. Each mentally connives to try to make it out alive. Many flicks about these deadly games force humanity to face how they value different people. Circle breaks it down to the base level. Who is worth saving? I dunno, probably yourself, I figure.
Let’s Make It Last
Shinsuke Sato’s Alice in Borderland is a series based on a manga, but we’re counting it. This Japanese sci-fi-horror sends a video game enthusiast and his pals into a deadly version of Tokyo. Arisu (Kento Yamazaki) “wastes” much of his life buried in cyber-space. But when he suddenly finds himself trapped in a videogame-like version of his city, the skills garnered through his hobby are suddenly in high demand. He’s thrust into a surreal world of games-to-the-death, and he must pair his mental capability with the physical skills of his new counterparts. What’s fun about this series is that it continues to expand the world long after you think it’s gone as far as it can go. Each episode will have you biting your nails and trying to solve puzzles to help Arisu and his chums escape the game and get back home.
Try Alexander Aja’s Oxygen. It’s tough to skip over Buried when putting this list together, but this high-tension-tale rings similar enough with its own twist. Like its Ryan Reynolds fronted counterpart, this French flick finds a person (Mélanie Laurent) trapped inside a box with no apparent way out. In this fresh tale, she must use only the tools discovered throughout this pod to figure out where she is and how she might escape. Brilliant problem solving and curiosity is met with gaslighting and warnings of certain death. It’s a frantic and intense tale that whizzes by while feeling like forever and will make you want to call everyone you know- not just to test that your phone still connects to real people in the outside world, but because you’ll want to tell them to watch it.
Kinda Hungry TBH
There’s virtue in tackling the strife associated with food inequality. Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia terrifying 2019 feature, The Platform forces us to face down the barrel of inequity with a simple premise; a prison made up of levels, and a platform of food that travels down them. In timed intervals, roommates are swapped and moved to different levels. Those at the top dine on a lavishly prepared buffet. Those at the bottom get the leftover scraps. No one knows how to get out, but everyone has methods of surviving. The audience is taken to task, witnessing those at the top gorge themselves while those at the bottom wither away. Goreng (Ivan Massagué) takes on the futile position that there would be enough for everyone if they each only took what they needed. It’s a nasty portrait of mankind, plus a hilarious and terrifying mystery that keeps you wondering how to escape the experiment. If only.
Header Image Source: Sony Pictures