Escape The Field fails to stand out in the crowded horror film genre.
If you have seen any of the Saw franchise, The Escape Room franchise, Cabin in the Woods, or any of the Predator franchise, you've seen this movie. Combining so many references and the expected tropes of the horror genre could be a wonderful roadmap to a unique horror film. Unfortunately, Escape The Field is predictable, formulaic with its references, and offers nothing new to the genre. This is not to say that this is a bad movie. It's enjoyable for a by-the-numbers "kidnapped strangers in Rube Goldberg-esque deathtraps" product. It's a product through and through, right down to the formulaic ending that leaves room for sequels that are really just simple remixes of the first movie. I can practically hear a movie executive exclaiming: more blood, bigger traps, and more sex appeal!
There are two conversations for a film like this; the first being: did it achieve its goals as a product? The answer here is yes, the movie may not be memorable, but it is competent and enjoyable enough. The second consideration is its larger place in the Horror canon. This is where most of the critical shortcomings are located.
Escape The Field is a 2022 horror film directed by Emerson Moore. Moore helped write the film alongside Joshua Dobkin and Sean Wathen. The horror thriller stars Jordan Claire Robbins as "Sam", Theo Rossi as "Tyler", Shane West as "Ryan", Elena Juacto as "Denise", Julian Feder as "Ethan", and Tahirah Sharif as "Cameron".
The story unfolds in a reference trio, The Saw/Cabin In The Woods intro, The Escape Room middle, and The Predator ending.
We have six strangers all kidnapped improbably from their daily routines without any reasonable explanation. Sam is a nurse at a busy hospital, and she laments about how someone would be able to enter a crowded hospital, drug a nurse, and carry her prone body out without detection. Denise (bka The Mean B) is apparently a high-ranking government employee at the Pentagon, who was somehow drugged and kidnapped while preparing for an erotic evening. It comes off like justification for her wearing a silky nightie during the films events. The film never answers the question of how satisfactorily. Unless you count vague conspiratorial musings from the Mean B or Realist about "they" being the government. But does any horror film realistically account for how its victims would be in the situation? Isn't this the suspension of disbelief necessary for films?
A jump scare and some playing at being a film about human trust in survival situations later, we enter the middle.
Hollywood puzzle-solving commences as a series of coincidences and lucky finds lead our six-character band to discover that their special items function as keys and maps to help them find "something". The maps never indicate that there is an exit or freedom, but the characters switch gears from let's keep walking in one direction because logically this cornfield must end somewhere, to let's solve the puzzle and gain our never promised freedom. Cue the kidnapped strangers in Rube Goldberg-esque deathtraps section where we see the "monster" one more time to remind us that this is a horror film and not a thriller. This section culminates with Ryan (bka the Badass) being injected with a super-soldier serum.
The last leg of this horror film morphs into a Rambo in the jungle/Predator mashup. Where we realize that Ryan has foreshadowed the "monster" the whole time. The injection of a red serum has given him superhuman capabilities complete with red glowing eyes. The movie drops the Hollywood puzzle-solving angle, and trust has been firmly secured between the two main leads (Sam & Tyler aka Final Girl and Everyman), and it's time for a big action scene. Ryan gets ample screen time as he recreates the mud scene from Predator and goes up against an "older" super-soldier who is the lone survivor from a previous game. Ryan and The camo pseudo predator have a well-choreographed, if predictable fight. Exchanging blows and body slams, with our Badass in the lead. And then Ryan is unceremoniously killed by one of those tricky Rube Goldberg-esque deathtraps. You would be forgiven for being confused, as earlier, he spotted the spiked pit with his superhuman senses. So, it seems strange that he just literally walked into the trap after physically besting the enemy super-soldier. You will also have to suspend your disbelief when the enemy super-soldier is defeated by our slender final girl. While the method is crafty, it is still hard to believe a recently stabbed nurse mounted such a strong defense.
Escape The Field seems like it wants to be four different films. On one hand, it wants to be a psychological thriller showing how social bonds and trust can morph under extreme conditions. We get shots that show how disorienting an endless cornfield can be on the human psyche. But alongside nominal mentions of hunger and lack of water, the survival thread quickly gives way to a Hollywood puzzle film. The special items turn out to not be so special, they are all glorified keys for all their narrative use. The backstories feel perfunctory. Sam, the Final Girl, is a Nurse because we need some Hollywood healing as multiple characters are stabbed and react unrealistically and inconsistently to the injury. Ethan practically screams "kill me" with his flat characterization and lack of narrative action during his time in the film. Denise falls into the sex kills trope, being the one in lingerie, kidnapped while waiting for an erotic night with her husband. She is the first one randomly killed (and this happens halfway into the film). The most horrific death displayed goes to Cameron, which the narrative seems to believe she earned. It has some unfortunate implications that are glossed over. The ending decides to ratchet up to a horror-action showdown between super-soldiers, taking the most obvious cues from Arnold Schwarzenegger. The last scene gives the government/shadow organization vibes that set up a sequel.
The actors give professional performances to their character tropes. They are serviceable and fun, but not necessarily memorable
The film opens on Sam from a high camera lens accompanied by ominous music. As we zoom down onto her prone figure, a CGI spider of dubious technical quality walks off her cheek just prior to her doing the "horror eyes" upon waking. This coupled with her scrubs (indicating she's intelligent/caring) and her waking up next to a revolver handgun (she'll make a tough decision), screams FINAL GIRL at the audience. Her backstory of having no family or friends, and being a workaholic nurse is the narrative sympathy the audience is given.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film is similarly predictable.
Escape The Field next introduces us to Tyler, the nice guy/everyman that screams peacemaker and audience surrogate. He comes off noncommittally nice as he stumbles into the strangely circular patch of the cornfield where we just met Sam. The two have a conversation that feels somewhat natural, as they set up a lingering theme of the film, who can you trust? Tyler seems logical when he tells Sam "[If I placed you here], Why would I give you a gun?". He dutifully plays the glue. So, we are introduced to our two main protagonists with generic chemistry that could vaguely be romantic, but who knows?
Next, it’s off to run into our red herring, Ryan. A pattern emerges as Ryan plays exactly as he is physically coded and rounds out our main trio. He is the aggressive jerk with a heart of gold. He is meant to be a pseudo antagonist and conflict source since the movie plays keep-away with the monstrous presence that sporadically attacks the group. He's not of course the antagonist, and you'll know it the moment you see him, but he does some aggressive things that sort of cast doubt. He is wearing pseudo army clothing, is the most physically fit, and exudes hypermasculinity as he assumes leadership, and everyone else just predictably follows his lead. Ryan comes off inconsistent until you remember that they are attempting to balance him as the Alpha who cares.
Ryan introduces two more characters (indicating that they are just supporting characters for our main trio of the Final Girl, Everyman, and the Badass), The Mean/Sexy B****, Denise, and the meek geek stand-in, Ethan. Ryan also introduces the Hollywood puzzle-solving aspect popularized by The Escape Room. He concludes that everyone was given a special item that has an emblem. Each character gets a special item that makes no narrative importance in the end, as they all act more as elaborate keys.
Denise will die because she is the sexually coded one. Ethan will die because he is a quasi-dork with no characterization or personality.
Then, there is Cameron.
The last character to round out the six-man band. She is an African English woman whose characterization falls into the 'everything and the kitchen sink' trope. As the only openly coded character of color, a Black woman no less, Cameron is tasked with checking off all the diversity boxes, as her being a Black woman is not enough of an identity from a diversity standpoint. She is predictably the Lesbian computer coder, whose natural hair (styled in quasi Bantu knots) is coupled with a masculine presentation. She is also the most openly selfish: she hides her item that is somewhat crucial to the group's survival. She also oscillates between cowardly and argumentative, moment to moment she is crying, leaving others to die, and arguing against the Hollywood puzzle-solving inconsistently. We are meant to see her as the Realist, but there is so much character baggage, including an odd monologue where she touches on racial injustice, but leaves it in generic terms surrounding childhood trauma.
Escape The Field is a serviceable horror thriller. You will be happiest if you stream it for free. The characters are easier to remember as horror character tropes. As I wrote this review, I only remembered the characters by their tropes: #FinalGirl, #Everyman, #Badass, #MeanB*/SexyGirl, #Realist/BlackLesbian, and #TheNerd. I had to consult my notes to remember their character names and backstory. These backstories are there to serve their scenes and are not interwoven well. You have to accept character tropes over fleshed-out characters. You will require great suspension of disbelief over the physical possibilities of a stab victim, Hollywood puzzle-solving, and chemical manipulation.
In other words, you have to remember you are watching a middling horror thriller with nothing new to add to an arguably overcrowded genre.