Greenlighting a sequel based on a one in a million change of a hit movie is pretty much a no brainer for a studio. A small budget and moderate return, it should be no surprise that Sony were keen to keep this franchise going. And while we all know that generally this is a terrible idea, I was holding out hope that Tournament of Champions would defy the odds and deliver a sequel that would outdo the original and keep the franchise feeling fresh. While the idea is certainly a great one, combining escapees from previous panic room challenges all into one epic panic room warehouse, the delivery and more specifically the script is not up to standard. In fact the script and characters feel like such an after thought, it is the main reason I was praying for the movie to be over.
The Minos Corporation (the baddies from the first film) are back and badder than ever. They randomly get all their victims onto the same subway car in New York City and send them plunging into their epic Tournament of Champions, headed by Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) joined by newcomers Rachel (Holland Roden) Theo (Carlito Olivero) Nathan (Thomas Cocquerel) and the saving grace of the movie Brianna (Indya Moore). What follows are a series of different themed torture rooms involving electricity, quicksand, acid rain and body slicing laser beams. The backstories of each champion isn’t explored too much and really it’s not what why this movie exists. It is all about solving the puzzles to connect the story and escape the impending doom in each room.
The connection to trying to expose this organisation and what they are doing (we know it’s a bunch of rich white guys right?) is the focus at the start of the movie and it’s a shame that it fades into the background and becomes a rehash of the first film with different characters. There is also a “they’re not dead unless you see them die” moment that happens not once, but twice and completely turns the movie into a laughing stock. I really wish I had turned my brain off earlier in the piece and sat back and enjoyed the ride. With laughable dialogue and stock performances, I just know that everyone involved on the acting side of this film is much better than what was on offer here.
The designs of each room and their puzzles are actually the most intriguing part of the film. The clues and trail the team must follow to get out is unrelenting and the more I relaxed into it, the more I daresay I semi-enjoyed it. When I got out of this film I was cursing its name for making me waste money and time on it, however upon reflection it is nowhere near some of the other sequels we have had to endure from other horror franchises so I daresay that I had to change my NovaStar score and wait to write my review to reflect this. The fact that I have been thinking about this movie, the rooms and their designs show that it did have some impact on me and maybe it is not a complete lost cause after all.
Casting wise the two leads I’m sure as doing the best with what they have, the exception in the cast is Indya Moore who has clear trauma from her previous experience with the Minos Corporation. Her character anchors the story through her journey and while she is not just a follower, her character’s demise probably hits the hardest and is the main story arc that I followed.
Escape Room : Contest of Champions feels like it should have been saved for the 5th or 6th film in the series after we had a group of survivors we had gone on a journey with. This would definitely help the audience connect and feel emotionally invested in their peril. Regrettably not even the two leads are worth being concerned about their survival and what amount of pain they have to endure. While the design of the rooms and their intricate puzzles are interesting, the rest of the film falls flat with too many fake out deaths to take this movie seriously. If you enjoyed the first film and its premise I am confident you will enjoy this, if you are a newcomer to the series, probably sit this one out. Hopefully they do better in the inevitable third installment.