Friday, September 22, 2023

Notes on Film: ELEVATOR GAME

 by Anthony King

And other urban myths of my childhood.

Because of the ongoing strikes in Hollywood, writer/director/podcaster Rebekah McKendry hasn't been able to promote her latest horror film, Elevator Game (2023), now available to stream on Shudder. Worry not, though, because I'm here! Based on an urban myth (or reality?!?!), the film follows a group of YouTubers who have a show where they test urban legends. A new member to the group, Ryan (Gino Anania), suggests the social media celebs do The Elevator Game for their next episode. Recently, a young woman disappeared in a Los Angeles building while purportedly playing the game. The gang agrees to play and film their experience. While the others have no luck, Ryan claims it worked on him, and he discovers the others' demise is just around the corner. While all synopses on the internet give away a major plot point, I'm not going to here because I went in completely blind and was pleasantly surprised.

Written by Travis Seppala, Elevator Game is based on an urban legend that originated, not surprisingly, in the Far East. The rules are simple:
    1. Find a building with at least 10 floors and an elevator.
    2. You must ride the elevator to these floors, in this exact sequence: up to the 4th floor, down to the 2nd, up to the 6th, down to the 2nd, up to the 10th, and down to the 5th. Do not exit the elevator at any time. And if someone new enters the car at any floor, or the sequence is screwed up, the game will not work.
    3. At the 5th floor a mysterious woman will enter the car with you. At no point should you look at her or interact with her. Any contact with the woman will result in catastrophe.
    4. After the woman enters and the doors close, head to the 1st floor. Upon the doors opening, exit the car immediately for god's sake, DO NOT LOOK BACK.
If you're in a movie, though, or perhaps you're brain dead, and you do interact with the mysterious woman in any way, she will rip you limb from limb and eat your soul. OR... if you're one of the lucky few, instead of descending to the 1st floor after pressing the button, the elevator begins to go up, then you are the winner. You will be treated to another world or dimension. A world or dimension from which you may or may not return. There are rules to follow to return to the real world, but if you're crazy (stupid) enough to even try this, I suggest you do your own research. While I don't believe any of this hokum, I'm still not brave enough to even attempt such a feat.

Elevator Game the movie explains the rules explicitly and shows what will and won't happen. McKendry is a hell of a director, as proven from films like Glorious (2022) and All the Creatures Were Stirring (2018) and her incredible short films Separation (2020), Witches Brew (2013), and The Dump (2012). Seppala's script touches (or more so bathes in) the current generation of influencers and YouTubers. Almost everything surrounding the channel or the sponsorships made my skin crawl. While intended for comedy, most of it just came off cringey. Outside of that, Seppala has written a pretty damn good story. Most of the 94-minute runtime is spent in an eerie atmosphere full of scares and killer makeup effects. Not often do I see a horror movie that will scare me; Elevator Game did it several times. Samantha Halas as the 5th Floor Woman is as creepy as Bonnie Aarons in The Conjuring universe. The mixture of practical makeup with visual effects had my hand covering my mouth a half dozen times. Aside from the cringe at the beginning, Elevator Game is a solid horror film that is a rare (actually) scary movie.
This sent my mind down a rabbit hole of urban legends. First, naturally, I thought of Elisa Lam at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. Just thinking about the case and the security footage sends shivers down my spine. (Watch Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (2021) if you haven't seen it yet.) But then I started thinking about the stupid shit we used to believe when I was in high school. For years I'd heard a legend about 666 Park Avenue in my hometown of Council Bluffs, IA. Legend has it that if you knocked on the door of the house at that address on a certain date (it always changed from story to story) a witch would appear and either chase you, curse you, or kill you. Here's the kicker: 666 Park Ave. was my Great Grandma King's house. We went there all the time. I never realized it was her house this story was about till after she'd died. Great Grandma was the sweetest old woman I'd ever met, but her house was awfully scary.

Great Grandma lived up in the hills of Council Bluffs. As you would drive up the streets, they would pitch steeper and steeper until you drive into dark woods, and finally crest, revealing a picturesque view of the city below. Somewhere in those hills, though, was an abandoned garage. Up there, the houses are 100+ years old, and the garages are cut into the hillside. There was an abandoned garage below a house that had burned down years before we'd discovered it. The one time we were brave enough to park our car on the steep drive in the pitch dark and walk into the garage we discovered empty liquor bottles, burn marks, a couple old dolls, and graffiti, most of it devil-related. My friends and I became absolutely convinced this is where Satanic rituals had taken place and children had been sacrificed. None of this was substantiated by anything, but boy did we let that rumor slide into the atmosphere. A couple years later, a kid at school asked me if I'd ever heard of the burned out garage where they sacrificed kids in Satanic rituals. I have to say I was quite proud of myself.
Of course there were others: coat hanger abortions at the water treatment plant up in the hills; The Church of The Vans (I'm embarrassed to admit I fell for this one: a cult full of people who were only allowed to drive conversion vans); the homeless man who lived under the bridge by our house whose name was George and was incredibly nice (not all were nightmare fuel; his name probably wasn't George and the only time I said hello to him he shot a snot rocket in my direction); our version of the New Jersey Devil who perched on streetlamps at night; the old man who lived in a dilapidated house (obviously inspired by Stephen King's IT) who would kill anyone crazy enough to step on his property; the curse of the Black Angel (one I still kind of believe, although I saw a dude piss on the statue one night and he still seems to be doing fine).

These, of course, are (mostly) all in good fun, and make for great stories. I'd love to hear your local urban legends!

No comments:

Post a Comment