By Ali Moosavi.
You don’t have to be a seasoned movie fan to predict the entire course of the film very early on in the proceedings.”
Before watching No Escape (Will Wernick, 2020), I was not aware of the entities called escape rooms, which apparently are very popular all over the world. Basically, a team of players is put into one of these rooms and they have to solve a number of puzzles in a limited time to escape from the room. One thing I was aware of though, were the Vloggers and the so called “influencers”; some of whom I wouldn’t mind putting into an escape room with unsolvable puzzles.
In writer-director Will Wernick’s film, a highly obnoxious Vlogger/influencer called Cole (Keegan Allen), who in his Vlogs boasts of being able to meet any challenge, is invited by a young Russian oligarch to go to Moscow with a handful of his fans, all expenses paid, and go through a specially designed escape room. An offer that Cole cannot refuse and, as you can guess, this is not a normal escape room. The puzzles are tough and failing to solve them will result in gruesome tortures and death.
You don’t have to be a seasoned movie fan to predict the entire course of the film very early on in the proceedings. I had a Zoom chat with Will Wernick about the film, which was formerly known as Follow Me.
What’s your opinion of Vloggers and influencers?
Well, in my research for doing this project I discovered Casey Neistat, a New York based Blogger who then he moved to Los Angeles; but I’m like right at the oldest age for millennial and so I think I grew up without any of this stuff and then saw it happen right before my eyes. The character of Cole is loosely based on a few of them, including Logan Paul and a couple of others. I think it’s fascinating that these guys have their own little video shows. It’s a pretty different way of doing things but sometimes you feel like putting them in an escape room from which they cannot escape! Through this process I’ve gotten to know a few of the Vloggers including Logan, who I met because he is friends with one of our cast and it’s interesting how different he is on and off camera.
You also made the film Escape Room in 2017. Was this a continuation of that?
We actually shot Escape Room near the end of 2015 and that was my first real movie. That movie was really small and DIY; we kind of built all the sets ourselves and shot the whole thing in a warehouse in Los Angeles. With regards to No Escape, we had talked about doing another escape room film with some of the same people and I thought that we needed a different twist on it, which is where the social media thing came from. So, it’s sort of like a sequel in spirit but it has nothing to do with the other movie.
Was there any of it actually filmed in Moscow?
No, it’s all Los Angeles.
I guess you had a good set designer.
Yes, a really good set designer. We also had a really cool cast. We had a lot of real Russians in it. Guys like Pasha Lynchnikoff and Dimiter Marinov, who though not Russian, are from countries near Russia and they’re all fluent Russian speakers, which was really important to me.
Was it fun creating the puzzles?
That was really fun. It’s funny, we went through a lot of different versions of them. There were probably 20 or 30 different puzzles that we talked about, some were getting so big and complicated that we kind of had to ditch them but yeah, it was really fun.
What about writing the people’s comments on the live video links of Cole, which appear on the screen?
Sure, those were fun. They weren’t in the script originally, but we just knew that eventually they needed to be created. There are probably thousands of them in there and it’s fun if you actually look at all of them, as they reference a lot of friends and family.
The violence is very gruesome. Was that intentional and didn’t you think that people might become suspicious if it’s way over the top?
Well, in the in the movie you don’t actually see most of the violence and I think that’s always scarier than really seeing it. The audience are supposed to be in Cole’s perspective the entire time. We thought if we’re going to put him in the experience, we have to really go for it.
Did any incidents take place during the filming, when you were putting all the actors through the various tortures?
No, there were no incidents. We had a really good stunt crew. For the water tank sequence, Holland Roden was a real champ, she was in that tank in one of the days for about 8 hours straight and she just kept on wanting to do it, you know it’s amazing, but Luckily we didn’t have any injuries.
How long did the shooting take?
It was 24 days of full crew and then there were two days of the earlier stuff when Cole is a child and sort of coming up as a Blogger.
Did the script go through a lot of rewrites and changes?
It did. We went through about four versions of the script. The first couple were more straight escape room type movies but Sony put out a escaper movie that year and a lot of escape room stuff was going on; so it seemed like we needed to do something different and we went back to the drawing board. I had been watching a lot of blogs stuff at the time and thought that would be an interesting mix and it kind of clicked.
Do these escape rooms really exist?
Yes, when I first started doing this, two of our producers had been going to lots of escape rooms around Los Angeles. At one point there was probably 50 or 100 of them in Los Angeles County and they go from the kids ones, like really soft escape rooms where kids can solve little puzzles and stuff all the way up to sort of horror experience escape rooms that are more extreme, so yeah they’re all over the place. There’s about 4000 of them in the world.
Are you thinking about an Escape Room franchise?
I’m not sure because the escape room is just one of the elements of the movie, as opposed to being the movie, but I wouldn’t mind if it happens! It’s a shame we couldn’t keep the set because they built such a beautiful set with everything in it; so I wish we had kept it so we could put more people through it!
I noticed in the credits you have something like 22 producers and executive produces and associate producers; what’s the story there?
Well, when you’re making an independent film, as this film was entirely put together with private financing, you know it’s sort of a friends and family approach from the beginning, so there are just a lot of people involved in raising money and making sure that it gets from beginning to the end.
How has the current pandemic conditions affected your work?
I was I was in the middle of a project when this all started and so I’ve been in post almost this whole time writing. So, I don’t think it’s affected me as much yet on the work level. On a personal level, it’s been pretty strange obviously; you know it’s not something we are used to, watching Los Angeles change radically in two months.
What’s next in the pipeline for you?
I’m directing a film called Whitebread that shoots in Toronto at the end of the year, produced by a company called Roar and a company called Showdown. So that’s exciting. We’re sort of in the early pre-production for that. It’s sort of a straight thriller, a little bit like Gone Girl in genre.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).