Directed By Adam Robitel
Starring – Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Thomas Cocquerel
The Plot – Six people unwittingly find themselves locked in another series of escape rooms, slowly uncovering what they have in common to survive. Joining forces with two of the original survivors (Russell, Miller), they soon discover they’ve all played the game before.
Rated PG-13 for violence, terror involving peril, and adult language
– Immersive set design. Once again, the production team have crafted together a variety of backdrops and procedures to flesh out a series of games that would make Jigsaw himself giddy with anticipation. This is most realized in the outlines of their designs, embodying as much realism in dimension, all the while persevering with an ounce of uneasiness that alludes to the audience that something isn’t right in these settings, long before our characters have a chance to remotely anticipate. On top of this, there’s a constant urgency in the sequencing of each arrival that constantly pushes the story ahead, allowing for very little down time for the pacing, which is somehow riveting despite the fact that the entirety of this movie is redundant in formulaic structure. Even after two films, the traps still persist with enough originality to spring innovation, all the while conjured up with enough unfurling urgency in the direction to keep audiences immersed faithfully at all times.
– Captivating minds. While the lack of characterization often stunts investment towards the variety of fresh faces introduced during this sequel, the return of Miller and Russell are most effective in the directing of their performances. Not only is their chemistry twice that of what it was in the original film, creating a believability for growth in the time that has passed since, but each of them maintains a frailty in their approach towards life, which fleshes out satisfying layers of vulnerability for their respective characters. Miller still provides those brief moments of twisted humor levity in between, and Russell’s scream queen enveloping is much improved from a previous effort that was periodically reserved a bit too much for my taste. Each of them provide endless amounts of heart to the expanding ensemble, serving as a vehicle for their talents that will be on display for many decades to come.
– Continuity. Sometimes sequels, specifically of the horror variety, lack the storytelling connection of their predecessor, and are only linked by the essence of the gimmicks that accommodate them. That’s not the case, however, with “Tournament of Champions”, as not only are the characters enriched with a palpable degree of psychological trauma, but it also helps to flesh out some of those unanswered questions from the previous film that were left unaddressed by the ambiguity of its cinematography and editing. Because of such, “Tournament of Champions” feels very much like a complimentary sequel to the previous film, even if its heights are limited by the lack of originality that it brings forth in further fleshing out this uniquely terrifying world. It colorfully illustrates a captivity that feels anything other than temporary to its victims, and disturbs enough with 82 minutes of claustrophobia that grow more tense with the diminishing isolation factor that is an inevitability in films like these.
– Life support. Just when the script feels like it’s running out of gas towards the end of its aggressively rushed second act, there’s a series of satisfying twists that redefines the stakes as we push to the finish line of this second chapter. The bombshell’s themselves work in the context of the story because of what their arrival tries to exude from the remaining characters, especially one particular twist that brought me back into the heat of the narrative at a time when the conventions of predictability disconnected me from its immersive nature. For my money, none of them are remotely predictable, especially considering how much time has passed in each of their developments since, and like the world of “Saw”, teaches us the audience to take stock in every single frame of the movie, which may or may not provide the clues at a shapeshifting bigger picture.
– Enthralling score. In addition to Robitel returning to the horror vehicle he brought mainstream success, is the return of musical composers John Carey and Brian Tyler to provide an inescapably panic-riddled series of compositions that drives the anticipation and anxiety of every sequence they accommodate. Tyler himself has worked on major blockbusters like “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Iron Man 3”, but his work here, while subdued in orchestral accompaniment, does convey a bigger resonating circumstance that eludes itself beyond the walls encompassing our characters, playing into a suffocating string of paranoia that we the audience practically beg resolution from. Most of their work calls on the consistency of electronic heavy synth to stir uneasiness to the movie’s physical conflicts, but there are several examples of stirring sentimentality in piano that audibly allow you to relate to the characters after themes of love, longing, and especially untimely loss.
– Flat characterization. You don’t expect much in a sequel that pertains to another underwritten predecessor, but even still the one-dimensional characters that make up the new additions of this installment leave plenty to be desired. Because we weren’t privy to their success stories with their original escape rooms, we don’t know what their unique skills lend themselves to with regard to where each of their places are in this new alignment. On top of that, because we know so little about who they are in and outside of Minos’ terrifying grip on each of them, we’re granted such little concern to invest in their respective plights, passing each death off like momentary speed bumps on the way to the next escape plan residing just beyond the trap door. Even on an antagonist level, we learn absolutely nothing further that colorfully paints this opposition lurking in the shadows, instead remaining ambiguous for two whole movies now, and asking us to salvage enough interest to care about a third.
– Sequel baiting. Speaking of the promise of a third movie in this trilogy, “Tournament of Champions” commits the ages-old sin of outlining a following film over the interests of fully resolving the one set right in front of it. This not only leads to a disappointing climax full of character disappearances and logical holes the size of Texas, but it also cleans things up in a way that is a bit too neat and tidy for any hardcore horror enthusiast to comprehend that resolution is anything other than temporary. Even the characters themselves allude to this fact in the movie’s dialogue, which all but cements that this diminishing second effort is bound to leave us unfulfilled, especially considering it wraps in a way that is the very definition of anticlimactic, stretching this plot out further than it rightfully has any depth to do.
– Rushed execution. One can easily understand and even entertain the idea that 82 minutes of furious pacing is meant to convey the environmental elements within a world of never-ending escape rooms, but its strain on the aforementioned characterization, as well as the stakes hanging in the balance, which are virtually non-existent at all times. There’s one death during the film that temporarily challenges this notion, but when you consider that there are six people in this group, with as many as four of them feeling like diminishing strangers to our interpretation, their untimely demises doesn’t stir even a semblance of nourishing emotion to the ensuing impact of its consequences, leaving the scenes flatly without a pay-off. In addition, the procedurals themselves while inside of the room are delivered with such rapid velocity that they often alienate their audience, plaguing them to watching people solve puzzles instead of actually immersing themselves in the ensuing plight to feel some connection to what is taking shape.
– Toeing the line. Part of what exceeded my expectations during the previous film was the grounded ideals of logic cemented with resolving these momentary conflicts. That logic goes out the window in “Tournament of Champions”, as not only is there little struggling in between the hints and various clues that they rapidly sift through, but there’s also instances where the laws of gravity are exceedingly defined in the traps themselves that no company could properly control. This of course leads to more daringly ambitious rooms than established in the prior film, but ones whose supernatural element constantly break the walls of believability on their way to justifying what is legitimately fair about each of their designs. This is especially problematic with the last of the many twists that I previously mentioned, where ulterior motives are revealed to be something much more puzzling than the various rooms we invade with our characters, leaving us scratching our heads at everything that this mysterious group has put their pawns through, and then asking us to deconstruct all of it.
– Unnecessary existence. When you consider the complete lack of characterization, and the minimal advancement of storytelling or progression with this installment, you start to fully understand how meaningless and aimless this sequel’s involvement truly is to the saga. This was briefly mentioned in my sequel-baiting section, where I said the movie is building for a third movie rather than resolving a second one, but even further than that, it’s the way that this movie concludes in correlation to where it started, with as little difference as possible to the important elements of the story. For my money, you could’ve included the few spare details from this film to the conclusion of the previous movie, and then made the third film the second (And hopefully concluding) film of this franchise. Failing to do so, and materialize them into their own installment only maximizes the emphasis within the lack of material that this movie is playing with, leaving us unfulfilled in a sequel with all of the potential to exceed expectations.
My Grade: 5/10 or D