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Shudder Secrets: The Elevator Game: A Creative Twist on a Popular Urban Legend

After her bonkers debut Glorious, I was eager to see what director Rebekah McKendry had in store for us next. Her latest, The Elevator Game, has some striking visuals on par with her last film. It also takes a popular urban legend and updates it for 2023. She captures the viral sensation of the game and continues this wave of influencer horror, movies like Superhost, Deadstream, Influencer, all about, you guessed it, social media influencers. This trend isn’t likely to subside anytime soon.

Ringu, and the American version, The Ring, also explored the idea of a viral sensation and summoning a vengeful spirit long before influencers were ever a thing. While The Elevator Game never quite reaches the level of scares as that J-horror classic, there are plenty of positives here, specifically the ensemble cast and the influencer thread.

What Exactly Is The Elevator Game?

There’s some speculation as to where the elevator game originated. Some credit Korea, while others list Japan. Regardless, it stems from Asia. To play it, you need a building that’s at least 10 stories high. According to the legend, if you press the numbers in a certain order, and play the game alone, you can enter a portal to another world/dimension, however you want to frame it. The game went viral after people posted videos all over the web.

The game drew even more attention after the unusual and tragic case of Elisa Lam. She was a young traveler found in a water tank of the Cecil Hotel in LA in 2013. Before her body was found, police released security footage showing her acting strangely in the elevator. It truly is an eerie video. Cue the conspiracy theorists and internet sleuths claiming that she played the elevator game and thus, perished in horrible fashion.

McKendry takes this urban legend and puts her own spin on it. The film opens as a young influencer, Becki (Megan Best), boards the elevator, plays the game to stream to her followers, and disappears after encountering the Fifth Floor Woman, a vengeful spirit that rips apart the souls of anyone who plays the game and doesn’t follow the rules. Specifically, if a player looks at the Fifth Floor Woman or speaks to her, she’ll murder them. Oh, and the woman contorts their body in a painful fashion. This film does have a few gnarly kills where you can hear bones crack.

The Elevator Game and Influencer Culture

McKendry really centers her film on influencer culture, and more specifically, a team that has a spooky channel in its nascent stages. As stated already, this feature’s greatest strength is its ensemble cast. Verity Marks stars as Chloe, an everywoman sort of character. She’s a thorough researcher who believes in science more than the supernatural. Madison MacIsaac plays tech wiz Izzy. Alec Carlos stars as a tech bro Chris, while Nazariy Demkowicz plays Matty and Liam Stewart-Kanigan plays Kevin, who constantly frets about the team’s limited subscriber base, and thus, limited income. This cast is young, and their characters are only a month out of high school. If their streaming channel/start-up doesn’t work, they’re unsure what to do. Few of them have backup plans. It’s viral or bust.

After encountering the mysterious Ryan (Gino Anania), who joins their team, they decide to play the elevator game. After all, it’s cheap. They only need a building with ten stories. What McKendry also does well here is capture the stress of constantly having to acquire sponsors and increase channel subscribers. Kevin constantly harps on them about not mentioning their one sponsor enough. He’s always telling them, behind the camera, to remind viewers to smash the like button and subscribe. Everything for him is about the numbers, and you come to learn he invested his college savings into the company. The channel has to thrive. Their futures, his especially, depend on it.

The Elevator Game’s Other Dimension

The other dimension is called the Red World. If participants play the game right, the Fifth Floor Lady will pull them into the Red World. Unfortunately, when you actually see this, it’s not all that menacing or impressive. It looks like our world, just well, red. Here’s where I wish the film had a slightly bigger budget and a more polished script. Further, the only resident of the Red World is the Fifth Floor Lady. How hard is it to outrun one ghost?

Still, the story given to the Fifth Floor Lady is actually quite harrowing. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say you come to understand why she’s out for vengeance. As for a ghost, she has her moments, especially when she contorts her body in all sorts of uncanny ways.

Overall, The Elevator Game is a fun ride with a few chilling and nerve-jangling moments. It doesn’t quite build up the Red World enough to make it feel all that threatening, but there is some good characterization here and a young ensemble cast that uplifts the film.

You can play The Elevator Game when it arrives on Shudder on September 15. Keep updated on the streaming service’s latest content by following my Shudder Secrets column.