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Elevator Game

“Elevator Game” is the rare Dead Teenager Movie (to borrow a phrase from Roger) that doesn't want to just bully its future victims. The doomed young adults in this Shudder title, who awaken a ghoul in an office building for the views and likes, aren't handled with cynicism—Rebekah McKendry and writer Travis Seppala support these young YouTubers and their vlogging ways. Not dunking on social media teens is a refreshing angle, enough to make you want to care about their inevitable deaths. But the movie's by-the-numbers horror will make you feel otherwise. 

McKendry previously worked with tight spaces with last year’s “Glorious,” which had Ryan Kwanten in a bathroom next to an inter-dimensional gloryhole being voiced by J.K. Simmons. “Elevator Game” shows more solid and reliable craftsmanship from McKendry, who gives the predictable events a solid pace. But it’s not enough to make up for another screenplay that struggles to expand its already weak premise to feature-length. 

The void in “Elevator Game” is, unfortunately right there in the title. It’s a big problem when the main spectacle, its game, is a clunky course of events—even the characters comment on how going from one floor, then up to another, then down, and then up to another, etc., is almost a joke. Its opening sequence suffers from this defining inertness for six minutes as we watch one self-documenting character go from one floor to the next, with little tension arising before a weak peekaboo. 

We then meet the young ingenues behind a channel called “Nightmare on Dare Street,” which has a hyper host (Alec Carlos) and co-host (Verity Marks), a cinematographer, a director, and more. And like many of these enterprises, they have sponsors and the money people want the young filmmakers to produce another video with better placement, fast. A new guy to the group, Ryan (Gino Anania), suggests they take on the online phenomenon of the “elevator game,” which is said to be behind a woman's recent disappearance (we met her in the opening). And soon enough, the group is filming inside the same elevator she disappeared in. Like with “Talk with Me,” these teens surely unleash a supernatural force, but “Elevator Game” plays it straight and flat, and deals with the ho-hum consequences of unleashing this monster. 

“Elevator Game” presents this first act with a lot of high-key lighting to match its rapid-fire, Disney Channel-like repartee, affirming it as a horror-comedy with a more teenage spirit. But that softness, unfortunately, lingers when the movie grows to menacing horror, in which the scares are as limited as the filmmaking tricks. McKendry and her team struggle to create robust menace out of the game's repetitive button-pushing, even when they use stylish streaks of overt pink and magenta (recalling “Glorious”) and gradual camera tilts to insinuate the lurking POV of the monstrous Fifth-Floor Woman. But their best visual flourish is an ominous and mighty pink X that rips through the sky, seen when one of the teens completes all the steps and ends up in a different kind of hell. Like “Glorious,” it all suggests a far more sinister and compelling world than what we are confined to here. 

And while elevators can be more threatening—a closed space that also can suddenly drop—the movie mostly uses it as a labored device for assembly line scares. In place of sustainable fear, we at least get the work of Samantha Halas, the contortionist who plays the Fifth-Floor Woman and whose face is slathered in Trick-or-Treat-ready make-up. Her victims mostly stand in place—and not just the ones in an elevator—but at least she's in motion, offering us the freaky, practical image of a human-looking body crawling on all fours backward. When it comes to the stagnant thrills of something like “Elevator Game,” you take whatever ups you can get. 

Now playing on Shudder.

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is the former Senior Editor at RogerEbert.com and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

Elevator Game movie poster

Elevator Game (2023)

Rated NR

94 minutes

Cast

Megan Best as Becki

Adam Hurtig as Businessman

Gino Anania as Ryan Keaton

Madison MacIsaac as Izzy Simpson

Nazariy Demkowicz as Matty Davis

Bradley Sawatzky as Host

Liam Stewart-Kanigan as Kevin

Verity Marks as Chloe Young

Alec Carlos as Kris Russo

Director

Writer

Writer (additional writing)

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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