Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

Much like popcorn is essentially a conduit for me to ingest butter, Escape Room:  Tournament of Champions is a means to an end of watching a group of strangers battle to the death. Is it nutritional?  Probably not.  Is it enjoyable?  YES.

There are those audience members, such as my husband and co-producer Travis, who go into a horror movie purely motivated by the curiosity of what unique kills await.  Then there are those of us, such as myself, who want the characters to have something to offer in terms of story development as well.  The first entry in the Escape Room franchise (because, surely, there will be more) gave both sets what they wanted: a setting that offered unique kills that were designed for and motivated by the characters and the mystery that tied them all together.

This entry is tailored to those who liked the escape room setting and the horror entrenched therein.  And make no mistake, each set did offer something new and grotesquely intriguing.  There is tension as the characters oscillate between bickering and synergetic problem solving to escape a literal life-or-death trap.  The climax was expected but the ending ultimately felt well-earned.  However, the characters were unimportant (except for my precious boy Ben.  Nothing must happen to Ben) and the story was ultimately forgettable.

The second film feels more tame because it is more tame – we know the who and the why of it all by the end of the first film.  This means that the second should be bigger and more daring, but it is a PG-13 horror thriller that can’t afford to tank at the box office.  As such, we get a fun enough movie.  It isn’t bad.  But if I had to choose, I’d rewatch the first time and time again, occasionally remembering that the second actually exists.

Also, fuck the trailers.  They spoiled what would’ve been the best parts of the movie.

A Spoiler-Free Review of Spiral: From the Book of Saw

**Note: The was originally written and shared with Google docs on May 18, 2021. We made the decision to move it over to our newly developed website so it could live in our archives.**

“If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw.”

Lionsgate set us up with this Pavlovian response to the month of October more than a decade ago, and yet, after a delayed release due to That Which Shall Not Be Named, we are now expected to pair the Saw extended universe with… Memorial Day?  Mother’s Day?  I don’t know, and I don’t really care, because Saw is back and it’s sleeker and sexier than ever.

Alas, as much as I would love to talk about Billy’s spiral-adorned nipples, I must break the news not to expect much in the way of @jasonebeyer’s proposed puppet that made its rounds online – or even the classic puppet.  Spiral takes a few steps to differentiate itself from its predecessors, most immediately noticeable being the puppet and voice modifications.

Spiral also reportedly received the highest budget of the franchise, and used it to much greater effect than the second-highest budgeted film (*cough* 3D *cough*).  The effects were gross in all the right ways.  The traps themselves make you wonder what this iteration’s de facto Jigsaw had in the way of their own budget, while also being simple in principle.  It felt like a return to the early days of the franchise but with a sense of growth and sophistication that, while it may not be realistic, was respectable.

(Most complex trap:  Seating reservations.  The Cinemark app, for our safety (grateful shout out – we are still in the Bad Times, people), has pre-entry seat selection with a happy little “none shall sit here” Minesweeper-esque bubble that appears around said selection.  You are not allowed to leave single seats.  This is apparently mathematically impossible when you only need 3 tickets. 2/10 nipple spirals for enjoyability, 8/10 nipple spirals for working our brains’ neural elasticity.)

There are arguably fewer twists in Spiral than most viewers have come to expect from the Saw EU.  It is reminiscent of parts 6 (i.e. Saw: HMO) and 7 (3D) in that that every character involved in the main storyline traps was from a similar organization or group, making the “sins” of each “trapee” tied together by a single thread.  Spiral reaches a different conclusion than either of these, however, which somewhat dampens the impact of the signature big twist.

We see plenty of flashback scenes that feed us clues throughout.  I found myself a little bit frustrated at the timing of some of these, as they created pacing issues and ruined any tension that had been building.

The remix that played over the ending credits has been stuck in my head for three days now, and I am in no way mad about it.  The original Charlie Clouser composition was an earworm, and it’s nice to have lyrics to sing along with now.

Overall, if you’re a fan of the Saw movies you will enjoy Spiral.  Don’t go in expecting the exact same thing as the previous 8 and don’t expect complete and total innovation.  It’s a fun movie, and at the end of the day isn’t that what we want?