Ciaran Foy’s “Eli” joins the production league of Netflix Originals where a good concept is wasted.
We’re past the times when splashing brains and crushing limbs was considered a good horror movie. And with splashers gone with the wind, it’s now the time for new era – often confusing, psychological movies.
“Eli”, directed by Ciaran Foy, whose so-far-so-mediocre filmography includes the likes of “Sinister 2” and “The Citadel”, proudly joins this cult of opaque stories. It also signs up to the Netflix Originals B-leagues, which includes the likes of “Anon”, “The Silence”, “Open House”, “Tau” and more.
In its centre, Foy finds a family of two, who take care of their sick son, Eli (Charlie Shotwell). The boy, as the story quickly reveals, suffers from a rare disease that could be called an allergy to the external world – a state which needs him to live in a hermetic, sterile bubble, and leave it only wearing a protective suit. The kid’s life is tough, but his loving parents – roles played by Kelly Reilly and Max Martini – invested every penny in a mysterious treatment, which should ease his pain.
This complicated therapy is conducted by doctor Horn (Lili Taylor), who right from the start seems shifty, as indicated by Eli multiple times. But even more strange is the place, where Horn’s clinic operates. An old mansion that screams this shit’shaunted! from miles away, is said to be the most sterile place on Earth. Frankly, everyone seem pretty much convinced it is, and poor Eli is forced to undergo the full treatment, consisting of three stages.
There’s no doubt that the jump scares & tropes orchestra had a disturbingly good film on a plate. The story, conceived in three minds – David Chirchirillo, Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing – had obviously ferocious ambitions. On one hand, “Eli” tackles its dramatic layer of a family struggle, and decision to expose your own blood to painful and tedious treatment. But the attention isn’t entirely directed there, as the writing trio spruces it all up with a haunted house, and a nauseating body horror too.
In some cases, the luxury of having so much to fiddle with eventually amounts to greatness. Take this year’s “Parasite”, which bounces back and forth between genres topics and layers, yet the confident direction and a riveting story glue it all together.
Ciaran Foy is no Joon-ho Bong though, and the puzzles in “Eli” simply don’t fit.
For most of its runtime, the audience is kept in the cloud of unknowing. Facts don’t add up, and the focus of the story shifts from Eli’s health deterioration to an intrigue that’s going on in-between, with bits of the ghosts that haunt the boy.
Dialogue’s scarce and muddled too, which doesn’t help understand the real drama that’s unraveled either. That’s also partially the fault of disinterest of Martini and Reilly, whose parental concerns have a rather faint pulse.
Things get arguably more interesting only in a horrid finale, which provides a visually spectacular pay-off. But even then, Foy has little idea on how to navigate that avalanche of information served at once. Out of the blue “Eli” adds just another theme to its horror canvas and manages to leave a long-lasting impression of what the hell did I watch?
On a brighter side, “Eli” involves several scenes that horror fans should thoroughly enjoy.
Foy, although his previous works won’t exactly back that notion up, has a good feeling of camera and lighting. There is enough tiny nooks in that gigantic mansion to shelter more than one haunt – a pattern that another Netflix Original “Malevolent” had incorporated quite well too.
“Eli” Culturally Hated or Culturally Loved?
There’s no denying that “Eli” has enough craft to satisfy viewers craving a simple horror entertainment. But the story, though ultimately confusing and galling, had enough steam to go for a slightly more challenging journey.
Dir. Ciaran Foy
Hate Grade: 7/10
Overall impression: Though visually effective and grounded in a compelling mix of drama and horror, “Eli” wastes its opportunities due to an awfully chaotic script and going-nowhere direction.