'Escape Room: Tournament of Champions' Is a Tricky Good Time

We would watch a million of these.

escape room 2
Sony Pictures

Escape Room, the 2019 thriller about a group of people who answer an invitation to test out a brand new escape room only to discover that they're trapped inside a deadly game whose only way out is through, was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of that year. I saw it on a Thursday afternoon whim with a friend, and we could barely believe how much fun we had watching a great concept played to perfection.

If you've seen the first Escape Room, you know that, though some characters ended up surviving the series of deadly puzzles with enough time to uncover the vast conspiracy behind it all, their journey was far from over, handily setting up sequel after sequel. The first (and hopefully not last) of those sequels, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, has arrived, and it's just as much fun as its predecessor.

Tournament of Champions reintroduces us to Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller), the two survivors of the previous series of escape rooms who managed to uncover the sinister origins of the deadly game. The escape rooms were created by a company called Minos, designed as a sort of modern gladiatorial competition with life-or-death consequences for the entertainment of wealthy elites to watch at a safe distance. This knowledge eats away at the back of Zoey's mind until she decides to return to the lions' den, using a series of coordinates to find what she believes to be Minos' headquarters in Manhattan. Obviously it's another trap, and she and Ben, who tags along for moral support, quickly find themselves inside yet another series of escape rooms alongside four survivors of previous competitions (Indya Moore, Holland Roden, Thomas Cocquerel, and Carlito Olivero). Hence, Tournament of Champions.

While none of the rooms here quite reaches the heights of the ingenious upside-down pool hall from the first movie, there's plenty to appreciate in each one, from an electrified train car (sick), to a bank vault protected by a grid of deadly lasers (sick!!), to a beach shack at the edge of a pool of bubbling quicksand (SICK!!). Zoey proves herself to be a natural at the games, figuring each time that there's more to this series of rooms that meets the eye, leading into the movie's sinister conclusion (which, again, props the door open for more sequels). With director Adam Robitel returning for the sequel, the two movies feel naturally of a piece with one another.

In an industry dominated by blockbusters and reboots and cinematic universes, the Escape Room films—movies that take a very simple yet perfect idea and expand on the concept gradually, leaving plenty of room each time for more expansion—are a breath of fresh air. At just under 90 minutes, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is paced maybe a tad too quick, with some puzzles solved a little too easily to keep the plot moving forward at a steady clip, and there's a pretty wild retcon in the final act that will split fans, but it also never feels bloated or overlong or caught up in its own mythology. It knows what we want: the fun of a novelty puzzle room with the stakes of a Saw movie. Just as long as we're not the ones trapped inside.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.