Dir. Rebekah McKendry (2023)
A group of recent high school graduates (and their new intern) who run a YouTube channel debunking urban legends come across one that may very well be real.
Made popular by the tragic story of Elisa Lam, the young girl who went missing after playing along with a relatively unknown-at-the-time urban legend ritual and who was later found dead in a water tank on the roof of the hotel in which she played. It's a scary story, one with numerous online theories that attempt to explain the girl's death: was she the victim of some evil being that feeds off of people who play the Elevator Game? Did she have some sort of psychotic break that caused her to attempt to climb into the water tank and get trapped inside? Was she just straight-up murdered and hidden inside the tank in an attempt to get away with the crime? We may never know the answer to the Elisa Lam mystery, but Rebekah McKendry's new film does a great job of exploring the game behind the scary stories and providing an excellent explanation of the ins and outs of the ritual's mythos.
YouTubers Izzy (Madison MacIsaac), Chloe (Verity Marks), Kris (Alec Carlos), and Matty (Nazariy Demkowicz) run a popular channel in which they try to debunk various urban legends. When the channel's sponsor threatens to pull out, they are forced to take the suggestion of their new intern Ryan (Gino Anania) and play the Elevator Game at a local hotel. Naturally, things go awry, and the 5th Floor Woman begins to stalk the group because they did not close the door that allowed her into our world. When Ryan reveals his true intentions, the group is left in disarray as they cope with new information. And, of course, the terrifying 5th Floor Woman.
I'm a big fan of Rebekah McKendry as both a director and a producer. I've previously reviewed her stellar Shudder exclusive Glorious, a wonderfully deranged Lovecraftian story that takes place entirely in a rest stop bathroom and contains an elder God on the other side of a gloryhole. While Elevator Game never reaches those heights of insanity, it's a much scarier film more devoted to supernatural horror and creepy-as-hell urban legends.
And it is, in fact, legitimately scary at times. There were several moments that elicited an audible "oh fuck" from me, a badge of honor that very few films attain. There are a few cheap jump scares, of course, but also some atmospheric chills and some decent humor (once the more annoying characters are killed off). It's clever filmmaking, explaining some of the more nuanced parts of the legend in satisfying and realistic ways. It's rare that a film like this, dealing with a legend that actually exists in the real world, pays the type of respect that McKendry does in this one. As a huge fan of urban legends and the unique cultural history behind them, I appreciated that she was devoted as much to the legend itself as she was to the rest of the film.
My webmistress, The Morrigan, believes wholeheartedly in the Elevator Game, and she wasn't as scared as she thought she'd be by the film. Me? I nearly shit my pants the first time we say the 5th Floor Woman work her magic. And you know what? The Elevator Game is culturally relevant as well. You shouldn't talk to people on elevators. Just mind your business and get off at your floor. Don't look at me, I'm not here. This is each of our individual trips up and down inside a tiny metal box, we aren't friends. That's why they play the music, so you can sing along in your head and leave me the fuck alone.
Who this movie is for: Teen horror fans, Horror comedy lovers, Urban legend appreciators
Bottom line: While I was a little disappointed in the initial setup of the film and felt like a few members of the cast could've done a better job (though they did play annoying teenagers particularly well), once the first couple of kills are out of the way the movie really picks up steam. There are several genuinely scary scenes, and the humor picks up in earnest, especially from Matty (Demkowicz). If you're down for a relatively standard teen horror with some hair-raising scenes, I would definitely recommend checking this one out when it comes to Shudder on September 15th.