‘Escape Room’ review: Puzzling, formidable survival flick

Adam Robitel’s Escape Room is an extremely fun psychological thriller that redesigns the modern escape game.

Kicking off with a bloody bang, Escape Room opens with a tense and well-executed death trap sequence gone wrong. From there, we meet a struggling stockboy Ben (Logan Miller), physics student Zoey (Taylor Russell), and young trader Jason (Jay Ellis), each of whom receives a mysterious box that serves as an invitation to compete in a series of puzzles and potentially win $10,000. What could go wrong with such harmless offer, eh?

Once they reach the designated meeting place, the trio meet three more unsuspecting players: pyrophobic war veteran Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), former miner Mike (Tyler Labine), and escape room enthusiast Danny Khan (Nik Dodani), and before they realize it, the game has already begun. The group find themselves trapped in a series of rooms, left with nothing but one of the most confusing set of clues ever laid upon. Regrets, frustration and tension immediately creep in the room’s atmosphere. What starts off as a seemingly innocent fun soon turns into a living nightmare. To make things tougher, each room is designed on a specific player’s worst fear and trauma. This sadistic game of life and death requires a strong will and a steady mind to finish so needless to say, many players will be ‘eliminated’ along the way. When all is said and done, the film surprisingly finds redemption in its final moments, with its open-ended plot even offering a tease for a burgeoning franchise to watch out for.

The Waiting Room. L-R: Tyler Labine, Deborah Ann Woll, Jay Ellis, Taylor Russell and Nik Dodani in ‘Escape Room.’

Taken as a piece of entertainment, Escape Room is extremely fun to watch as it redesigns and adapts modern “escape games” in multiple levels. However this film also satisfies on an introspective level. Rather than leaving each character to a single final destination, the film captures their astounding journey by giving sufficient depth and emotional connection through vital flashbacks, thereby making the story more compelling and its character arcs feel earned.

Confronted by a palpable sense of danger, the group discover that in spite of their background differences, they all share a common connection that leads to the mystery of why they are brought here. Unlike other survivalist and torture porn film franchises like Saw, this film cuts above the sub-genre by engaging its viewers to have an in-depth look to each character’s worst fear. None of them are written just for the sake of being a cannon-fodder. Adam Robitel’s direction brings an unexpected heart and humanity in his proceedings that you can easily find yourself rooting for each character despite their impending demise.

The Ice Room. L-R: Labine, Ellis, Dodani and Logan Miller in ‘Escape Room.’

When it comes to the actual escape rooms in play, these surely won’t disappoint the aficionados. The puzzle rooms are very well-thought and creative – none of which falls on the ‘underwhelming and no-brainer’ category. It helps that the cinematography is remarkable – the framing captures multiple angles hence making spaces look much bigger than they should. The deaths, though not bloody, are still gruesome and unpredictable to satisfy your blood lust, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Escape Room combines elements of survival mystery and psychological thriller in such a mellow yet sinister approach that appeals to a wide range of horror fans – from lite to hardcore. The genius of this film’s concept is that it feels genuine and interactive. It gives off the vibe of you being there, solving puzzles along with the fine actors. What’s more impressive to think is how a set of escape rooms shows the ambition to take charge on a whole universe, the plot sprawling for more unexpected things to come in its possible further sequels.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Adam Robitel and written by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik, ‘Escape Room‘ stars Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis and Nik Dodani. Produced by Columbia Pictures. Run time: 100 minutes.

MOVIE REVIEW: Love, Simon (2018)

Love, Simon is a surprisingly, radically-inclusive coming-of-age tale that wins you over with its universal truths.

Love, Simon kicks off with its titular character declaring in a voice-over that he’s just a typical teenager (“I’m just like you”) then the film cuts to a montage that highlights his upper-middle class credentials: his beaming family and their beautiful model house, his first SUV, his cool, ethnically-diverse friends sipping on their iced-coffees, etc. Well, Simon’s straight-out-of-catalog existence makes him anything but your ‘typical teenager’. It got me worried for a minute. Is this going to be the type of teen movie that is written by people who don’t understand teenagers at all? Director Greg Berlanti proves this otherwise so I swept this slight misstep under the rug. Simon’s seemingly perfect life is a facade and once you get past it, the film delivers a heartfelt story of self-liberation.

And so, the film reveals a common denominator. Like most of us, Simon’s been harboring a “huge ass secret.” In his case, he’s gay and no one knows anything about it. We are given enough reasons to believe that Simon outing himself in public will not be the end of his world. He’s in a much safer environment after all: he has a liberal-minded family that will not shun him plus, a supportive group of friends that will stand by him. His biggest fear is actually how these people around him will fundamentally change their perspective towards him. The film presents an interesting dichotomy of declaring your difference to the world yet still wanting things to be the same as ever. What will people expect of him moving forward? Is he supposed to let his ‘gay flag’ fly once he’s in college? Simon visualizes his future in an exuberant and hilarious Whitney Houston dance/dream sequence. He is, after all, a confused teenager who don’t know what he asks for.

While most queer films often equate coming out as a death sentence, Love, Simon feels progressive. Simon does not see his sexuality as an abnormality or an aberration, it’s just a part of him that he’s learning to embrace. Most of the conflict here is actually an internal struggle and sure, you could wish for more cinematic tension. But once the film lays out his moments of introspection, it turns up more affecting than what we expect it to be. There is a sustained level of inclusivity throughout Simon’s emotional journey that it will not take a gay person to understand what he’s going through. The emotions transcended are universal and we all know them too well: the agony of keeping a dark secret to yourself, the itching anxiety of waiting for someone’s reply, the humiliation from doing grand romantic gestures, the blindsiding confusion from misreading your friend’s mixed signals, etc. The film falls squarely in the coming-of-age category but it isn’t interested in rehashing the tired tropes of social food chain, overrated prom nights, graduation farewells, and so on. It all suddenly feels refreshing.

But even if you’re not emotionally invested at all here, the film still finds a way to captivate its viewers’ attention. The film’s mystery is the identity of “Blue”, an equally-reluctant closeted gay student to which Simon sparks up a digital romance with. The two confide each other’s deepest secrets including their embarrassing sexual awakenings (involving Harry Potter and Jon Snow, don’t ask) and as the story places us in Simon’s shoes, we begin to speculate who could his penpal be? Is it the popular jock? His pianist co-thespian? His classmate who works in the local diner? This guessing game allows our protagonist’s longings drift from one prospect to another, playing out in hypothetical scenarios.

Going back on the subject of portraying teenagers in films, director Greg Berlanti genuinely cares about the teen experience, especially their approach towards young love. The characters come out with a right mix of intelligence, complexity and naivety (as it should be). The film also benefits from a clever and sympathetic script by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger (two of the writers behind the heartwarming series This is Us). Simon (Nick Robinson) and his group of friends Leah (Katherine Langford), Abby (Alexandra Shipp) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) deliver strong performances, managing to be both authentic and likeable. Leah says at one point, “Sometimes I think I’m destined to care so much about one person, it nearly kills me,” this is how sensitive smart teenagers talk. We even get to understand the psyche of Simon’s annoying classmate Martin (Logan Miller), how he’s misguided as opposed to being completely malevolent. It all boils down to seeking love and validation from the people around them. Because that’s what teenagers really care about.

But if I were to pick a line that’s representative of the whole film it will be from a poignant scene where Simon’s mom (Jennifer Garner) says to him, “This last few years, it’s almost like I can feel you holding your breath. You can exhale now.” This is exactly how the film feels like – a long overdue exhale. This is a story of a young man who comes into his own terms and finally takes charge of his story. Admittedly, the third act feels saccharine that you can almost shoehorn a Taylor Swift chorus in the end but as the whole theater cheered for Simon, I couldn’t help but feel uplifted as well.

Love, Simon is not groundbreaking by any means and still could’ve used a more realistic touch present in indie films. Still, the movie ends up as a competent descendant to seminal teen classics like The Breakfast Club. It does not present the audience with an overt agenda or a didactic lecture on LGBTQ rights, it simply says that everyone, no matter who they love, deserves a great love story.

Love, Simon wins you over with its universal truths, and for that, this ends up as one of the most important films of the year.


4 out of 5 stars


Distributed by 20th Century Fox, ‘Love, Simon‘ will have its paid advance screenings on April 30 and May 1, 2018 in select PH cinemas. Opens nationwide on May 9, 2018.

Starring: Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Josh Duhamel, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Keiynan Lonsdale, Logan Miller and Jennifer Garner. Directed by Greg Berlanti from a screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger. Based on the novel ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli.

Runtime: 1 hour, 50 minutes

WATCH: New clips from ‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse’

As the Philippine opening of Paramount Pictures’s Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse looms, the studio has now released two new clips from the teen-oriented horror comedy for fans to enjoy.

Packed with blood-soaked gags and inappropriate humor, “Scouts Guide” is said to be equal parts gory horror and raunchy comedy, pulling no punches on both grounds.

Watch the clip titled “How to Build a Campfire” here:

The movie stars Tye Sheridan, David Koechner, Cloris Leachman, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan and Sarah Dumont.

In “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse”, three scouts and lifelong friends join forces with one badass cocktail waitress to become the world’s most unlikely team of heroes. When their peaceful town is ravaged by a zombie invasion, they’ll fight for the badge of a lifetime and put their scouting skills to the test to save mankind from the undead.

Opening across the Philippines on November 11, 2015, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse’ teases humor, horror

Paramount Pictures has shared the domestic and international posters for its upcoming teen-oriented horror comedy Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, both carrying the innuendo-filled tagline, “Always Bring Protection.”

Packed with blood-soaked gags and inappropriate humor, “Scouts Guide” is said to be equal parts gory horror and raunchy comedy, pulling no punches on both grounds.

The movie stars Tye Sheridan, David Koechner, Cloris Leachman, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan and Sarah Dumont.

In “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse”, three scouts and lifelong friends join forces with one badass cocktail waitress to become the world’s most unlikely team of heroes. When their peaceful town is ravaged by a zombie invasion, they’ll fight for the badge of a lifetime and put their scouting skills to the test to save mankind from the undead.

Opening across the Philippines on November 11, 2015, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.