Rebekah McKendry’s Elevator Game finds its place as a young adult horror for the TikTok challenge generation—but don’t bonk your head on its lower ceiling. Travis Seppala’s screenplay (David Ian McKendry gets an “additional writing” credit) lays a barebones foundation that deploys reusable tropes of urban legend storytelling. Characters are stereotypes whose personalities are derived from accessories like Bluetooth headsets (“The Manager”), and predictability abounds. There’s not much to Elevator Game, and McKendry struggles to find the film’s extra gear, which underwhelms in its familiarity instead of finding comfort in the YouTuber satirization that has become popular with the rise of social media.
The film follows spooky influencer collective Nightmare on Dare Street, who run a video channel dedicated to playing cursed games in supposedly haunted locations. New intern Ryan Keaton (Gino Anania) suggests the “Elevator Game,” pitching ideas five minutes into his first day. Talkative host Kris Russo (Alec Carlos) brushes away the suggestion, mocking the boredom of riding an elevator for 20 minutes, but an angry health drink sponsor demanding content overrides Kris’ apprehension. The crew assembles—including the Felicity Smoak-ish tech wiz Izzy Simpson (Madison MacIsaac), on-camera talent Chloe Young (Verity Marks) and nervous supernatural believer Matty Davis (Nazariy Demkowicz)—and finds a nearby elevator for their newest episode. What happens next you can probably figure out on your own.
Elevator Game’s narrative drive feels robotic. Everything (Ryan’s introduction, obvious ulterior motivations, an inability to overcome copy-paste caricatures of YouTuber culture) plays like a basic cable version of better movies. Titles like Deadstream or #chadgetstheaxe are more impassioned projects about social media obsessions driving deplorable behaviors. Elevator Game feels one-dimensional in comparison. You’re watching Elevator Game for the promised “Elevator Game” fright-fest—I get that—but the pedestrian composition of Nightmare on Dare Street’s communal arc is distractingly textbook.
The “Elevator Game” rules are straightforward: Enter an elevator, hit floor numbers in a specific sequence and don’t look at or interact with the “5th Floor Woman.” There’s not much room for embellishment within the elevator confinement, but that doesn’t prevent McKendry from conjuring some spine-tickling chills as players clench their eyes shut in fear of Ms. 5th Floor Woman’s dooming gaze. Despite the film’s minimalist structure, Elevator Game has a few approvable scares—whether that’s a demonic contortionist who haunts an alternate unlockable dimension or the anxious feeling of a paranormal entity breathing down your neck. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about these moments, but that doesn’t negate their efficiency. McKendry’s jack-of-all-trades experience studying about, writing about and now making horror movies means she sure as heck not only understands what’s scary, but understands how to execute scary as well.
Problematically, Elevator Game works against itself and these spotlight moments. Production design is restrictively drab between a handful of locations, outside an in-shot Fangoria magazine or Shudder Original movie poster. Performances are stuck within their archetypes, unable to break through roles interchangeable with countless other indie horror pawns. Visual effects are a mixed bag: Gory deaths provide an adrenalized spike of brutality to the film’s dodgy representation of its “Further” or “Upside Down,” where crimson digital skylines marked with a rift-like “X” aren’t as polished. McKendry comprehends what her film can accomplish with its given resources, but even at that, leaves suspense and spectacularity to be desired.
Elevator Game is better suited for horror fans who might not even consider themselves horror fans (yet). That’s not as pointed a dig as it sounds—everyone needs somewhere to start. Veterans who’ve scrubbed every platform for horror gems won’t consider Elevator Game anything more than watchable. Its mythology and gamesmanship are missing heightened levels of invigoration, while the technical merits of plainly shot metropolitan backdrops are basely competent. It’s a real “that’s a movie” kind of horror, delivering what’s on the tin with workmanlike abilities that won’t dazzle, but might be enough for some audiences.
Director: Rebekah McKendry
Writer: Travis Seppala
Starring: Gino Anania, Verity Marks, Alec Carlos, Nazariy Demkowicz, Madison MacIsaac, Liam Stewart-Kanigan, Megan Best
Release Date: September 15, 2023
Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.