Online trend-oriented dares or games make for an interesting horror movie premise, but the primary rule in those flicks is a well-defined causality, which helps the audience catch on to the narrative flow pretty easily. Despite having a rather simplistic premise for the titular game and a limited number of generic characters, Shudder’s recent release, The Elevator Game, fails in that aspect, resulting in a rather confusing plot progression.
Apart from the shaky in-universe narrative structure, the movie also suffers from over-dependence on jump scares, unnecessary overacting, tonal imbalance, and an abundance of other trope-y horror elements, which really undermine the otherwise visually gorgeous, minimalistic presentation. The movie treads on familiar ground with its overall shtick of entity-infested shenanigans; there is hardly anything horror aficionados haven’t come across before; even the claustrophobic aspect associated with spaces like elevators isn’t even touched upon. But at the same time, it should be mentioned that some flickers of intensity and camerawork suggest a potentially strong entry that has probably been lost amidst the incessant rectilinear motion of the said machine.
What is the elevator game? What happened in the movie?
The movie begins with Becki, a teenage girl, trying her hands at the eponymous game during the late hours. The elevator game is a product of another online trend combined with urban myth, which dictates that navigating to multiple floors of a ten-story building in a sequential order (4, 2, 6, 2, 10, 5) through an elevator will invoke a cursed entity known as Fifth Floor Woman. The cardinal rule of the game is after reaching the fifth floor, the participant has to remain silenced with their eyes closed until the elevator door closes. After which, accessing the first floor will result in being taken to another dimension—a portal to the world of the dead. However, failing to obey the rules will result in a vicious death at the hands of the entity. Becki tries to attempt the game, and records herself in the process as it seems she is doing it particularly for someone. However, ignoring the one cardinal rule of the game, Becki opens her eyes when the elevator arrives at the fifth floor and gets brutally slaughtered by the vicious entity.
The scene moves to the cozy office of a social media community named “Nightmare on Dare Street,” operated by a bunch of newly graduated, broke teenagers whose primary concern at the moment is to keep the channel afloat by pleasing the sponsors. When the newcomer to the team, Ryan, raises the proposition of doing the elevator game challenge, the team leader, Kevin, considers it the last resort for the week’s content. The group decides to perform their elevator experiments in an office building, but their first attempt produces no result due to the show host, Kris, breaking the rule. After they return, Ryan repeatedly urges them to continue the game and ultimately reveals the real reason why he pursued the group to play the game in the first place. The host of the channel, Kris, had used the channel’s popularity to hook up with Ryan’s sister, Becki, who was a fan of the community, and suggested she play the elevator game on her own before completely ghosting her. Now, showing absolutely no signs of accountability, Kris continues pretending as if he didn’t know Becki, and Ryan calls him out for that.
A quarrel ensues between the two, and the group decides to call it a day. However, Ryan firmly believes his sister to be stuck in the other dimension due to playing the game, and he returns to the office later to try his hands at the game. Eventually, every member of the group gets targeted by the vengeful spirit, and it is revealed its existence is a result of a tragic accident stemming from a similar kind of lack of accountability by people. Whether the members of the group survive the ordeal or Ryan gets to meet his sister once again, that can be known only after watching The Elevator Game on Shudder.
As previously mentioned, the one aspect of the movie that sticks out like an eyesore is the lack of consistency in the in-universe lore of the movie. When even the characters themselves are confused about how things work, even until the final moments of the movie, surely it cannot make the task of understanding the ordeal any easier for the audience. The game itself becomes repetitive after a while, and the claustrophobic atmosphere of settings like the elevator wasn’t used properly to induce horror at all—in this case, the neatly crafted elevator scene in one of the most memorable horror entries of the year, Evil Dead Rise, comes to mind.
The introduction of a bunch of teenagers in horror movies inevitably seals their fate of becoming victims, but the story doesn’t put much effort into fleshing out their background at all, which actually would have made the audience relate to or feel something about them. The Gen Z cast is portrayed more as archetypes than as real people. In fact, all the group members are introduced through one-liners that work as exposition dumps, and the only emotional connection you can barely feel is the character Ryan’s concern for his sister. Except for the group researcher, Chloe, all the characters are mostly one-note stereotypes, which doesn’t help the case of making a modern horror flick. Some of the cast members are still learning the ABCs when it comes to acting, and it is most perceivable in the sudden emotional outbursts of the actor who portrayed the sleazy tool, Kris. There are some major tonal inconsistencies as well, as the makers put random out-of-place humorous elements in a rather tense and grim backdrop, totally ruining the buildup of many serious scenes.
Things That Were Well Done
Despite the shortcomings, there are some noticeably good aspects of the movie that need to be mentioned as well. The connection through trauma is an age-old horror formula, but one that works well if done properly, and The Elevator Game manages to do just that. Ryan’s pain at losing his sister Becki drives him to take on multiple dreadful journeys, and his desperation and angst are what hook the audience to the movie. The camera work is not ground-breaking or original, but even a decent adherence to copybook methods can produce good results, which is shown through the choice of visual storytelling the movie adapts. With an indie movie budget, it is commendable how the movie pulls off the feeling of dread through red hues and darkened corners, and the minimalistic choice of settings helps invoke the feeling of isolation as well.
Special props should be given to actor Samantha Halas, a real-life contortionist, for bringing the vengeful Fifth Floor woman to life. Some of her scenes actually made the movie engaging, and her backstory as Allie McCormick, a hapless sophomore who was a victim of bullying, works well in the context of the movie.
It depends on how accustomed you are to the urban legend type of horror movies to decide whether it will be worth your time to check The Elevator Game out or not. While the movie has a couple of good things going for it, overall, it fails to deliver in a number of aspects. The movie doesn’t skimp on gore and bloodshed, so like us, if you are a fan of exalted elements like those, you can give it a watch. It can also make you interested enough to check out the real Korean urban legend the story is based upon and delve into some classic Asian urban horrors like Grudge and Ringu, which are far superior entries in the subgenre.