I like writing this column. It’s good exercise, and I like that it’s kind of becoming my “thing” here at F This Movie!. Digging through these misfit oddities makes me both a better writer and a better critic, and I look forward to being first though the door on the cult favorites of the future (You and I both know that someone, somewhere will declare November Criminals an “underrated gem” on a podcast someday). And while this week’s pick comes courtesy of our own Adam Riske, I’m generally getting better at picking movies, too. Not quality-wise, mind you. Potential. I don’t just go after what looks bad — the whole “so bad it’s good” thing is fun, but it’s not all that productive. This isn’t a “bad movie” column. I’ve done my best to highlight worthwhile fare like Their Finest or Nerve just as much as I’ve dissected the baffling incompetence of Life on the Line or The Last Face*. Schadenfreude is not the goal, here. The goal is to weed through an oft-untapped pipeline for the niche, the compelling, and the peculiar.
Well, sort of. The escape room’s theme is “killer hillbilly,” so the Baghead Jason chained to the wall does most of the terrorizing. He’s hidden in a dark corner for the first part of the game, held back by a chain that loosens as time goes on. Every ten minutes, he gets a little closer. The faster they solve the puzzles, the less ground he gains. You get it. This is all in good fun until Baghead goes off script, ripping out the security cameras and knocking off the players one by one. Is it insanity? Is it the Death Box? Is it Ben’s insistence that You’re Next is overrated? All we know is that — despite running the room to-tally blind, a clear violation of good business and safety practices — Brice refuses to intervene until the game ends. Jeff is a prominent horror blogger, you see, and his bad review might bury Deranged for good. Instead, Brice bickers with assistant Molly (Hayley Goldstein) while the foursome trapped inside try to complete the game before the big bad gets within knife’s reach. As you might imagine, there are complications.
Speaking of which, Escape Room is an irritating example of what I refer to as an “LA People” movie. Not only is it made by someone trying to hustle their way into the biz with a high-concept script and cameos from former A-Listers strapped for cash, but it’s laced with references to Hollywood culture — Ben and Jeff have a screenplay (everyone in Hollywood has a screenplay), and the frequent nods to pilot season and other Industry touchstones will alienate anyone who doesn’t find LA people as adorable as they find themselves. With due apologies to LA people, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s not that I’m simply too quaint or provincial, either. Some of the greatest movies ever made have been about the ups and downs of Tinseltown, and I know enough about how the sausage gets made to enjoy watching it happen. But there’s a difference between using a setting to shape a narrative and using it as color because it’s all a writer knows. If it’s meant to teach us about the business, it fails. If it’s meant to endear us to the characters, it fails even more.
*The worst movie I’ve ever seen