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LIFT FOR DEAD
Elevator Game (15)
Director: Rebekah McKendry
Screenplay: Ian David McKendry, Travis Seppala
Starring: Gino Ananai, Megan Best, Alec Carlos
Review: RJ Bland
There are a whole host of genre films out there that purport to be ‘based on a true story’. For some, their connections to true events are undisputable; see films such as Compliance (2012), Open Water (2003), Snowtown (2011) and The Sacrament (2013). With others (usually supernatural fare), you have to take the claim with a generous pinch of salt; see films such as The Conjuring (2013), The Amityville Horror (1979) and The Strangers (2008). For some, these claims will induce a roll of the eyes, but for some it’ll add a bit of extra spice to their viewing experience. Even if we know that what we are about to see isn’t entirely factual, the suggestion that some of it is can be enough. Films based on urban legends offer a similar type of titillation. They’re the movie equivalent of conspiracy theories in a way. If enough people buy into an urban legend and it becomes part of the zeitgeist (even on a local level) then it’s done its job. There’s no smoke without fire etc after all. Perhaps the best-known film that attempts to tap into our fascination with urban legends is the aptly titled Urban Legend (1998), which focuses on a serial killer using urban legends as their modus operandi. The underrated slasher When a Stranger Calls (1979) deals with the classic babysitter getting a phone call from upstairs tale, whilst Slender Man (2018) attempts (underwhelmingly) to delve into the whole Creepy Pasta internet thing. Most recently we’ve had Grimcutty (2022), which was inspired by the ultra-weird Momo challenge. The latest film to get in on the act is Rebekah McKendry’s Elevator Game, a film inspired by a decade old Korean urban legend.
Elevator Game focuses on a group of recently graduated early-twenty somethings who are eeking out an existence running a video channel. These aspiring influences (shudders*) call themselves Nightmare on Dare Street and spend their time mucking around and playing games in supposedly haunted locations. Oh and trying to shoehorn in advertiser product placement wherever possible, naturally. The team are down on their luck though, with a key client threatening to pull funding if they don’t get a new video uploaded within a week. They brainstorm ideas for a new episode and the new intern (Gino Anania) suggests that they play the ‘elevator game’ – an online dare that essentially involves visiting a particular sequence of floors whilst in an elevator. On the penultimate floor (Floor 5) you have to keep your eyes closed, or the Fifth Floor Lady will kill you. If you manage that, you will then be pulled up to the tenth floor, where you will get to visit the Red World, which is basically an alternate ghostly dimension. Sounds legit huh? Despite some initial reluctance from a couple of the gang, they assemble at a nearby hotel (it can be any building with at least ten floors) and…well, as you can imagine, things don’t go according to plan…
Elevator Game is a rather frustrating watch. There’s nothing terribly wrong with Rebekah McKendry’s J-Horror/Youtuber mash up. It’s competently made and has enough low-key scares to prevent it from becoming boring, but it ultimately feels something of a missed opportunity. Whilst the urban legend the film is based was only partially triggered by the mysteriously infamous disappearance of Elisa Lam, the film itself could have done with the enigmatic dread that the real-life case stirred up. But instead of a darkly oppressive psychological chiller, we get a glossy teen horror that feels a bit like a Netflix genre offering. To be fair, the source of the elevator game is rooted in teen and internet culture, so it is the obvious way to go. But trading in some of the Gen-Z fluff for some myth building wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The core characters are nothing to write home about. They’re about as roughly sketched as you’d expect in a film like this. None of them are particularly interesting but at least they aren’t intensely dislikable or annoying, as is often the case with characters in this age bracket (we’re looking at you I Know What You Did Last Summer TV series). They’re all competently performed too, and the cast do just fine with what they are given, with Verity Marks providing the strongest performance.
Aesthetically, Elevator Game makes some interesting choices. It’s bright and colourful and crisp, which will possibly appeal to the tastes of younger viewers and the direction is technically sound. McKendry’s previous feature Glorious (2022) proves that she knows how to lens a film. However, the production values don’t do the film any favours here. The locations are limited, which isn’t a mortal sin by any stretch, but the hotel elevator set is disappointingly humdrum. We don’t need James Wan levels of old-school gothic, but the elevator and the lobby are just too plain for purpose. And although we do get to enter the Red World a few times, we never really get to explore properly, and the pink hue makes it feel like we’ve stepped into a nightclub rather than a supernatural dimension. Thankfully, the depiction of the fifth-floor woman is rather well done, thanks in part to the insane contortion skills of Samantha Halas and McKendry manages to eke out a handful of half-decent scares along the way. Which is probably just about enough of a reason for you to consider checking it out.
Elevator Game is a lightweight and largely predictable teen horror but there’s just about enough technical quality and scares to appeal to more casual viewers.
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