At the conclusion of 2019’s Escape Room, it left audiences with a big question and a budding criminal enterprise. It brought characters together for specific reasons to fight through an assortment of fun, horror set-pieces. Perhaps it made you think twice about that Friday night outing with friends. The first film gave you just enough backstory on each character to make you care. The puzzles were inventive enough for certain nail-biting moments. When composing a sequel to a mid-sized, successful horror film, there are certain pitfalls that it can fall into. There’s a need to go for bigger thrills, bigger kills, and an escalating all-encompassing antagonist. If you look at the Saw and Hostel franchises, they seemed to have felt that pressure. To the tune of more gore at the expense of the story.
The premise of Tournament of Champions is one that you would expect. The dangerous games are back and undoubtedly, the Minos corporation would want to put them to the test in a new set of demented games. Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) make their return from the first film as they are trying to put a stop to this shadow corporation’s evil schemes. With that, Zoey is still dealing with the trauma of surviving a plane crash. Now she has the events of the last movie to add to her anxieties. So, in actuality, this is a quest for Zoey to overcome her fears while Ben is apprehensive about it. As they both seek to track the primary base of the organization down, they soon find that they are parts of another game on a subway with sole survivors in other iterations.
Director Adam Robitel developed a lot of creative tension with how the games were constructed in the first film. Some of them required the group to work together; whether it’d be a bar that was turned upside down. Others turned to a more primal survival one-vs-one interface with a kaleidoscope-like room that drugged you. All of it played into the characters’ motivations; whether they are altruistic or self-serving. Zoey’s story served as the central glue that held everything together. In Tournament of Champions, the rooms themselves seek to up the stakes, but they are more focused on the calamities that they can inflict. There aren’t as many complex solutions to these as the ones in the previous film.
The audience gets introduced to new characters such as Rachel (Holland Roden), a previous winner who can’t feel pain, and Nathan (Thomas Cocquerel), a priest who acts on faith. In trying to play on the foundation of the first movie, there’s a loose connection where everyone has their personal reason to be there. Unfortunately, it feels a lot looser this time around. You identify with Zoey and Ben more because their relationship was previously developed and advanced upon. When dire things happen to them, that emotional connection is present. That bond is missing from the other characters.
Other than a few passing antidotes between rooms, the additional players feel more like fodder. An action aspect is more present this time around in Tournament of Champions. While the ‘bank room’ puzzle requires the characters to be more cerebral complete with a timed safe, laser floors, and important bank documents – everything else feels random. It’s a challenge to keep things fresh as you develop more obstacles for the characters to go through. The essence of an escape room is to challenge your brain against the fleeting minutes and seconds of the clock. What Tournament of Champions concerns itself with this time around is brutality. It feels like something any fatality-infused movie can do, other than it being its own unique experience.
As for the main storyline, there’s a twist that alludes to a continuation of the story. Now, in the future, you risk diluting the potential series further as the horror elements take more precedent. While the challenges are here to spark a certain excitement for a time, Tournament of Champions loses a lot of its gusto courting a more conventional path.
Photo Credit: Sony Pictures