by E. McDonnell
*** 3 Stars
Clearly, something is ‘off’ and everyone involved should lose their medical licenses.
Director: Ciaran Foy
Cast: Sadie Sink, Kelly Reilly, Lili Taylor, Charlie Shotwell, Max Martini
Plot Synopsis: A boy becomes trapped in a haunted house while undergoing treatment for a rare disease.
From the description and trailer, Netflix’s Eli appears a lot like a generic horror movie and for the most part it is, although, the film does have a lot of unique elements and a very complex story with many twists and turns which make the movie a little more exciting than previously thought.
When we meet Eli (Charlie Shotwell), our protagonist after whom this Netflix horror is named, he starts the movie with a fatal allergy to, well, everything; his face and body tend to burn up when exposed to such things such as light, air, water, dust and more- but not cotton or denim, because he wears clothes. But anyway…
He is then brought to a clean house by his mum Rose (Kelly Reilly) (who is kind and peaceable) and his father Paul (Max Martini) (who is gruff and unsympathetic), run by Dr Isabella Horn (Lili Taylor) with a couple of nurses, who are very suspicious, and undergoes intense treatment – if that’s what you want to call it!
Eli is a haunted house film where the person being haunted is unable to leave. It’s a nifty way of ensuring that a character, who should otherwise be heading for the hills, is forced to endure and then investigate the source of the malevolence but it’s never as frightening as it should be. The first half of the film haunts the audience with terrifying psychological horror, with poltergeists and freaky, but relatively good, CGI effects. However, the frequent use of familiar horror sequences such as extended jump-scares, spooky shadows and words mysteriously carved into things, as well as a couple of nasty dreams, becomes very repetitive and not very scary at all. Is it the treatment, the house or just Eli himself that causes him to see spooky creatures in the dark corners of the hallway? Are the ghosts trying to harm or help Eli?
What’s good about this film is that it creates an mystery for what lies ahead, leaving a number of possibilities dangling. Unfortunately, the film gets bogged down in a need to be ‘spooky’.
In the bits between the jump-scares, Eli presents itself as a movie about bodily autonomy, growing up and a loss of trust in authority – whether it’s parents or doctors. By giving this experience over to a child, it doubles the anxiety. The brutality of the experiments and the gory and disturbing experiments make this a very uncomfortable watch. There’s only so many times you can listen to a 10-year-old boy scream, “No, let go of me!” before you want to hit the mute button. Clearly, something is ‘off’ and everyone involved should lose their medical licenses.
The acting for the most part is good, with Charlie Stockwell giving a strong performance as the boy haunted by ghosts, being cut open and being allergic to everything- he’s just not having a good time of it really! Some of the acting though is, questionable. Haley (played by Stranger Things‘ Sadie Sink) who comes to Eli’s window to talk to him, basically acts as an exposition device for the audience but ends up being another plot hole in the film! Is she spooky? Mostly, she’s annoying. In her defence, I would say it’s down to the writing of her character not her acting ability.
The details of the plot prove more involving than the film that surrounds it, leading us along with curiosity at just what the film’s big twist will be. But just when you thought, you have everything figured out, the film surprises the audience with unforeseeable twists and turns. The final twist comes entirely out of left field making the film much more complex, although, the rate at which the twists are thrown at you in the final act, can be a little hard to wrap your head around and may be confusing to some viewers. This messy reveal results in an extremely anti- climactic and confusing ending, which makes for a disjointed watching experience.
Although the film packs in a lot more depth than you initially expected from it, Eli is probably a film more suited to the small screen, a mediocre Friday night horror flick that some may find scary or enjoy, where audience members can multi-task, perhaps even searching for something better to watch next…
Eli is currently available on Netflix and was rated 15 by the BBFC.