Released in 2019, Escape Room was a surprise horror hit. With the first week of January release date, it seemed like a movie the studio was dumping to get out of the way at the beginning of the year, surely to be overshadowed by the holiday holdovers. However, the film was well-regarded among horror fans for the over-the-top embrace of its central gimmick. It went on to gross $57 million domestically and $155.7 million worldwide off of a comparatively tiny $9 million budget and later spawned a sequel in 2021’s Escape Room: Tournament of Champions which opened in theaters on July 16, 2021.
The central premise of both Escape Room films follows a group of individuals who are lured to what appears to be a normal escape room but instead are complicated death traps they need to solve to survive. This drew a lot of compassion to the Saw movie franchise, a popular horror series where people are put into elaborate death traps they need to solve but with more emphasis put on gore and shocking the audience. Both films also have a certain level of righteous frustration with capitalism, with Saw having a few critiques of the American healthcare system while Escape Room makes clear comments on how the 1% are not only above the law but use the other 99% misery for their own amusement. While Escape Room on the surface might seem like a toned-down version of Saw, Escape Room stands apart as its unique fun franchise.
PG-13 Rating Works For Escape Room
When it comes to horror, movies with a PG-13 rating are often seen as lesser because they are not able to fully embrace the gore that comes with an R rating, which the Saw movies exploited to great effect. Yet the issue is that the R rating can become a trap and filmmakers tend to rely on gore and violence to make up for any issues with the script and characterizations, with the best example being how the R rating did not make Aliens vs Predator: Requiem better than the PG-13 Alien vs Predator and resulted in a far worse movie.
Escape Room being PG-13 works to its advantage in several ways. The biggest is it opens up a larger audience and makes for an ideal horror movie outing for younger viewers who can’t get into an R-rated film but still seek scares. That in turn works for the box office, as young moviegoers are one of the most significant audience members and are particularly important in terms of horror movie box office. Escape Room is more accessible to audience members than the Saw franchise, as there is a good amount of viewers who might not want to try and stomach Saw but can easily enjoy the thrills of Escape Room.
Difference Between the Traps
While on the surface, Escape Room might be a PG-13 Saw, that does help it in terms of defining the film’s signature death traps. These are the star attractions for both franchises, as audiences want to see what new creative ideas the filmmakers will come up with. The Saw franchise is driven by the villain Jigsaw’s motivation to test people on their will to live, pushing the participants (and by extension the viewer) to see how far they will go to survive by subjecting themselves to extreme horror and pain.
In Escape Room, the traps are puzzles created by the Minos Corporation as a way of entertainment for the wealthy (and a comment on the film watcher) and are meant to be the modern-day successor to gladiatorial games. The traps are meant to be puzzles that need solving to survive, with unique themed locations offering hints at the clue. Everything in the Escape Room film series, like the actual escape rooms, is themed implying the inherent theatricality of the games as opposed to Saw’s more grounded single focused objective. Saw is meant to shock the audience, where Escape Room is meant to challenge the audience. In that way, it can be clearly defined that Saw is a horror franchise, while Escape Room is a thriller series.
Escape Room Has Great Characters
Escape Room’s premise is built on a group of characters being thrown into a situation and needing to work together to solve the puzzles if they want to survive. That means the films need to take a good amount of time building up the character’s personalities and backstories. This level of investment in the characters raises the tension as the audience becomes invested in making sure everyone lives, and when somebody falls victim to a trap or heroically sacrifices themselves, the weight of it is felt by the audience.
A Young Franchise With Room To Grow
The biggest difference between Saw and Escape Room is the number of entries. Saw has had nine entries released since 2004 with a tenth one scheduled for 2023. Seven of the Saw films were released one year after the other, so the franchise became an annual Halloween tradition. Escape Room so far has had two films, with the COVID-19 pandemic not only delaying the release of Escape Room: Tournament of Champions but impacting that film’s box office due to public concerns about returning to the movies when it was released in July 2021. However, the film did end with a cliffhanger, leaving the door open for more entries and could grow into a long-running film series with a rotating cast of characters trying to escape complex themed death traps.
The fact that the first Escape Room performed well in January, while the second movie did decent numbers in the summer movie season during the COVID-19 pandemic, proves that the film series has more freedom in terms of when it can release than the Saw movies, as both entries that released outside the Halloween season (2017’s Jigsaw and 2021’s Spiral: From the Book of Saw) underperformed at the box office. This means Escape Room could open any time of the year and audiences will turn out for it. It may not be a grotesque horror show like Saw or a philosophical masterpiece like Cube, another similarly themed film (which predates Saw), but Escape Room remains a fun thriller that stands on its own two feet.