starship hangar Technology

Get me out of here!

Still of Nik Dodani in ‘Escape Room’ (2019)

Still of Nik Dodani in ‘Escape Room’ (2019)  

Mind-boggling traps laced with high-risk technology have been long raising the blood pressure of audiences

A young man frantically solves puzzles to stop the walls of the room in which he’s confined from closing in on him as he screams for his life. No, it’s not a bad dream — it’s a split-second scene revealed in a trailer of yet another escape movie, succinctly titled Escape Room, releasing this month. When the trailer for the film dropped, it became clearer that this burgeoning sub-culture of ‘trap films’ was taking a turn towards something much more technology-oriented and a lot darker.

A majority of escape films in the horror genre invoke a sense of claustrophobia for audiences due to the immersive productions, and this is aided by the various levels of anomalous tech in them.

Traps galore

We can recall such a timeline as far back as 1981 with The Funhouse, in which teens must escape a homicidal maniac while trapped in the ever-terrifying setting of a carnival filled with trap doors, risky levers, dangerously spinning gears and even animatronic robots for additional jumpscares. The technology is that of a typical carnival in the 80s, but saddled with the foreboding thought of whether that lever you’re about to pull will save you or send you to your demise — almost making you think twice about going to a carnival.

Still of Basileus’ Machine in ‘Thir13en Ghosts’ (2001)

Still of Basileus’ Machine in ‘Thir13en Ghosts’ (2001)  

Thir13en Ghosts (2001) takes place in a deceased ghost-hunter’s glass house, with various chambers riddled with Latin barrier spells which entrap the hostile souls of 13 very, very angry ghosts. We eventually observe the house itself is Basileus’ machine which is “designed by the devil and powered by the dead,” its steampunk-esque mechanisms featuring a central core of huge, mechanical gears and a rotating crest of rings. It can’t get more ‘don’t mess with this’ than that. The blueprints of the machine allude to the inventions of an astrologer, conveying the eras-old technology, while still being ahead of its time in terms of concept design.

Saw: Legacy (2017) From left to right: Mitch (Mandela van Peebles), Anna (Laura Vandervoort), Ryan (Paul Braunstein), Carly (Brittany Allen), and Buckethead NOTE* the identity of the buckethead on the far right is a big reveal in the film, so they will not ID him

Saw: Legacy (2017) From left to right: Mitch (Mandela van Peebles), Anna (Laura Vandervoort), Ryan (Paul Braunstein), Carly (Brittany Allen), and Buckethead NOTE* the identity of the buckethead on the far right is a big reveal in the film, so they will not ID him  

The Saw franchise, of which the movies span from 2003 to 2017, is something of a unique escape experience, as audiences aren’t too sure whether they should root for the trapped or not… after all, former civil engineer-turned-killer John Kramer aka Jigsaw kept them in the most precarious of predicaments because they sinned to a point of maybe-redemption. Goosebump-evoking situations include the popularly-used reverse bear-trap assembled by easily-found mechanisms which fall apart with a simple key and the room where five people are wearing bucket-like helmets with collars attached to a chain, which pulls them towards rotating saws.

What’s terrifying about the gadgetry in these films is the tangible realistic nature of it all… as well as the amount of pain the characters must either go through or inflict upon someone else to avoid their own death.

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Escape Plan’ (2013)

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Escape Plan’ (2013)  

What if an escape room isn’t even an escape room, but a prison? Well, sometimes getting out requires straight-up guns and sharp wit… and who better than good old Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone to pull that off? Escape Plan (2013) has the queasy concept of solitary confinement cells which deploy high-powered halogen lights to disorient and dehydrate prisoners. Stallone plays a structural engineer and escape-artist, so watching him best each barrier of the complex system is a treat.

Escape Room has a plethora of themed rooms with life-threatening extremes — including one which doubles as an incinerator and another simulating a snowy environment, complete with iced-over lakes and zombies. Why even go through this? For an enviable cash prize to solve all one’s problems, of course.

The psyche of it all

Ultimately, what’s commonly fascinating across these films isn’t just the imaginative technology — it’s how the different characters and the technology engage in psychological warfare with time. Just as we see con-artists weaselling their way into the trust of their mark, how would they engage with high-stakes life-or-death situations? How would an honest family man do so as in Thir13en Ghosts? And in Escape Room, how would a troubled teenager make the right choices?

Still from ‘Escape Room’ (2019)

Still from ‘Escape Room’ (2019)  

On the other hand, we see technology falling into the hands of these cold-blooded corporations, individuals or supernatural entities, who silently watch everything through cameras, occasionally elevating the dangers.

We enjoy living vicariously through these choices. Perhaps, that’s why escape rooms around the country have been doing so well, offering up different doses of wiring, mechanisms and audio-visual enhancements with which for us to fiddle.

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 3:46:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/starship-hangar-get-me-out-of-here-technology-and-escape-films/article25931386.ece

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