Written by: Matt Patti | September 15th, 2023
Elevator Game (Rebekah McKendry, 2023) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Whether it’s using a Ouija Board or attempting to summon Bloody Mary in a bathroom mirror, humans have always been fascinated with bizarre games that offer a glimpse of our worst nightmares. While many of these come from long ago, a more modern ritual is the Elevator Game, which is a challenge from the early 2010s that originated in South Korea. An activity of much intrigue, the Elevator Game—said to open a portal to another world if done correctly—is the centerpiece of director Rebekah McKendry’s eponymous film.
The movie involves a group of paranormal investigators who are struggling financially and are looking to produce a quick, easy episode of their YouTube series to showcase a sponsor’s product. For the upcoming shoot, the team is joined by a mysterious new recruit, Ryan Keaton (Gino Anania, Bring It On: Cheer or Die). Ryan is seemingly obsessed with the Elevator Game urban legend and suggests that it be the focus of the new episode.
To play, one must find a building with at least ten floors and press a specific order of floors in the elevator, but when participants get to the 5th floor, they must beware of a terrifying entity called the 5th-floor woman, who will board the elevator with them. Players must close their eyes and be careful not to look at the spirit, because if they do, they’ll be torn to shreds. After the ghoul boards, one presses the button to the first floor. If all goes according to legend, the elevator will not go to the first floor, though, as instead it will elevate past the highest floor in the building and take the passenger to the “red world.”
McKendry (Glorious) starts off Elevator Game with a young woman playing the game in the same place where the main cast of characters will later also try it. The introductory scene is exceptionally creepy and McKendry succeeds at setting the tone for the film while also immediately showcasing the titular game. We then encounter our team of paranormal investigators in their office area. The set design of their disorganized but vibrant meeting space is exceptional, with many fun, little details that horror fans will enjoy discovering.
The introduction of our main characters works well, as we get to see a bit of each person’s personality shine through in this very first scene together. The characters are more compelling and layered than one might imagine for a horror film like this, and each one stands out from the others, which is a huge positive when a plot revolves around a group or team. The performances from the cast are decent, although at times line delivery can seem a bit forced and awkward.
Once the crew arrives at an elevator in an old building at night, the suspense is palpable and felt throughout. The location is suitably very eerie, and the anxiety felt by the characters as they go to each floor is relayed quite well. Especially nightmare-inducing is the 5th-floor woman, who may or may not be seen each time we visit the 5th floor, but is equally unnerving either way.
The third act intensifies and puts the audience on the edge of their seat. It is here where the creature design and visuals really pay off, with disturbing imagery and effective scares. The ending does seem a bit rushed but it fits well enough.
For all that Elevator Game does right, it does have a plethora of faults that it struggles to overcome. The largest of these is the audio. Not only is some of the dialogue unnatural and artificial sounding, at times the technical aspects of the dialogue are completely off, including some noticeable ADR and lip-sync issues. Also, a very annoying techno score that sounds like it should belong in a kids’ TV sitcom plays for much of the first third of the film, which is very out of place and almost makes the viewer forget they are watching a horror film.
One non-audio related problem is that Elevator Game falls into the trap of introducing a forced backstory to a ghost that didn’t really need one. We’ve seen this many times before, and I do think aspects are a bit unnecessary in this situation. Admittedly, though, the subplot introduced is a scary one.
Still, even with these multiple issues, the characters, the atmosphere, and the circumstances surrounding the ritual in Elevator Game are all enticing enough to keep the viewer invested. The stakes are raised further in the third act, resulting in some great thrills and chills that entertain. Perhaps the most important attribute of a horror movie is leaving a lasting impression, and I will say that the next time I’m in an elevator, this film will undoubtedly come to mind.