Escape Room 2 Director On Making A Wicked ‘Saw’ Movie For Teenagers
Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions has acid rain, ‘Resident Evil‘ lasers, but no reverse-bear traps. This is big-screen horror made for teens.
In 2004, whether the filmmakers like it or lump it, the genre’s torture porn era began with Saw. A year later, we had the Achilles tendon-slashing gore of Hostel. From here into the mid-2010s, R-rated, viscera-soaked horror was a prime money-maker, until it slowly died out in a fog of CGI, 3D gloop.
In 2019, Escape Room made for a successful cocktail of gnarly suspense and thrills while being marketable for teenagers. Director Adam Robitel, himself a huge fan of the Saw franchise, relished the challenge of stretching that age rating to make something ‘the producers could show their kids’.
The sequel brings back Logan Miller and Taylor Russell’s escapees for a brand-new game, only this time they’re playing with fellow winners in larger, nastier rooms created by Minos’s mean, unseen Puzzlemaker.
Being forced to up the ante off the back of the first film’s success was a ‘curse’, Robitel told UNILAD. ‘When we got into development in the second one, I was like… we’ve used fire, gravity, ice, gas. There’s literally no other way to kill people. So that was the hard part. It’s PG-13, I can’t put a reverse bear-trap on somebody’s face. The list of visual threats that are cinematic that also kill you is very small.’
He joked: ‘Whoever does the third movie is gonna be like… we’re gonna tickle them to death!’
Robitel became attached to Escape Room shortly after finishing work on Insidious: The Last Key with James Wan and Leigh Whannell. ‘I felt like at the time, nobody can out-Wan the Wan,’ he said, so he went searching for a genre movie with a chance of sticking out ‘that’s not walking around a dark house with things jumping out at you.’
In its primitive development, he had no idea what an escape room was. So, a pokerfaced Robitel embarked on a voyage through what Los Angeles had to offer. ‘I was just blown away. The good ones are super art-directed, super visual. I got really excited about what the rooms could be visually, then I thought… okay, let’s make a genre movie that doesn’t look like every other genre movie. Let’s have beautiful colours and palettes.’
Of course, there were limits. ‘Early on, the producers said they wanted to make a movie they could show their kids. So that was the marching orders I had to follow. I’m grateful for it, a lot of the feedback around the world is that it didn’t look like 9/10 genre movies coming out,’ he said.
That’s not to say Robitel was completely uninterested in going the whole gory hog. ‘I love myself some R-rated horror and I definitely found myself yearning to go to the dark side – there’s something I wrote which is very hard R [which he kept tight-lipped on]… but I looked at it as a challenge.’
Even with acid rain, lasers and quicksand – inspired by Lassie, he says – it ‘goes back to Hitchcock; you show the audience the bomb underneath the table and then you have a conversation for 10 minutes while you’re waiting for that bomb to go off. It can be too easy to put a garret round somebody’s neck and start cutting – I don’t mean to diminish that, but I think the first Saw was so revolutionary.’
Then again, even in its flamboyant art design and silliness, it’s not total escapism, so to speak. ‘Minos has expanded the game now, so it’s not just the escape room – it’s the idea that every choice you make is being influenced by this horrifyingly powerful organisation. Coming out of the pandemic, where so many of us have lost our freedoms, everything that we thought we knew about life has been upended, so I think people can relate to that idea that there are powers at work that are just beyond our control.’
The first movie especially tailored its rooms to the competitors, with themes and traps linking to traumatic events, not unlike Jigsaw’s twisted games.
When asking Robitel what his nightmarish escape room would look like, he gives a characteristically Indy answer: ‘Snakes… I’m not terrified of them, I can hold them.’
‘I don’t like claustrophobia, that’s for sure. We had these ideas of waking sick people up and they’re all in coffins, and they have to talk through tin wire and stuff. The idea of being buried alive is definitely up there for me, but I guess as I get older I’m getting more paranoid. What scares me most is real world fear… look at real world horror, turn it into a genre story, it’s a way to unpack that sh*t,’ he added.
While we’ll avoid any and all spoilers, the identity of Minos’s Puzzlemaker is still unknown. ‘There’s been a lot of talk about an origin story for the villain, and we certainly had some ideas, and some stuff that we’ve spit around. I think what we’ve found is we wanna keep it mysterious right now, know what I mean? Even if Sir Anthony Hopkins came out at the end of the movie and was like, ‘I’m Minos’, it just wouldn’t be as frightening,’ Robitel said.
‘There are ideas. I would love to do an origin story of the Puzzlemaker and do a whole movie telling that story, because whoever designs these rooms really cares about the death rooms, they’re really specific about the wallpaper, the tiles. Whoever the Puzzlemaker is really loves Zoe the way Hannibal Lecter loves Clarice Starling, it’s a little toy to play with,’ he explained.
Robitel joked we’d have to wait until the eighth film to find out who it is. I guess there’s just one question left: do you wanna play a game?
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions hits cinemas on July 16.
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