Synopsis – A boy receiving treatment for his auto-immune disorder discovers that the house he’s living in isn’t as safe as he thought.
My Take – Yet another week and yet another Netflix film has been released into this world. By now we all know that Netflix’s original films aren’t as consistently strong as their TV series library, especially when it comes to the genre of horror or science fiction. Mainly as the steaming giant picks up films which are either dropped by studios who are expecting a box office bomb in the making or a films which are considered too risky to produce, hereby resulting an output that is simply mixed bag.
This latest film from director Ciarán Foy (Sinister 2) appears belongs to the same category. Despite being hailed as one of the best unproduced script from the Blacklist, its producers, Paramount Pictures, surprisingly dropped it from their theatrical schedule earlier this year, citing that they just didn’t know how to market it, leaving Netflix to pick up its distribution. Having seen it, I can see why.
Firstly the film is very forgettable. Yes, the film has been drafted as a smart, creepy, and playful little chiller that sets the stage by teasing some vaguely familiar ideas before finding its own footing in the back half, but, despite entertaining with its horror elements, the actual plot misses the mark by using familiar tropes, and just takes too long before dropping us into its bonkers climatic twist.
I agree, there are far worse horror films that have been released in theaters, and with the added twist, the film does rise above a lot of the other haunted house films, yet, I can’t help but ponder, that with a better execution, the final product could have been quite exquisite.
The story follows Eli (Charlie Shotwell), a young boy who is suffering from a weird immunodeficiency syndrome where the very world around him can kill him. Living in a Mylar bubble and wearing a set of sterilized, vacuum-packed clothes, he dreams of walking in the grass without the hazmat suit right before his skin begins to burn, as he collapses into the toxic ground.
While his parents, Rose (Kelly Reilly) and Paul (Max Martini), have been going slowly broke, they are still holding out hope that their son will one day live a normal life. Their hope comes in the form of Dr. Isabella Horn (Lili Taylor), who with the support of her two nurses Mary (Katia Gomez) and Barbara (Deneen Tyler), runs an experimental medical facility in an old Victorian manor, at a remote location.
However, as the family gets settled into their new home, and the three step treatment begins, Eli starts noticing things that shouldn’t be there. After seeing, or possibly hallucinating, a burnt and mutilated boy while undergoing a brutal bone marrow procedure, Eli begins to suspect not everything is on the level at Horn’s clinic.
His suspicions are further heightened by Haley (Sadie Sink), a neighborhood girl of his age who visits him from outside the clinic’s glass, sending Eli down a rabbit hole of paranoia and ghostly stalkings.
Honestly I really liked how the film did all the smart work teasing the couple’s loose threads, the house and another of its characters. The film is ahead of its audience in some entertaining ways, and that’s no small thing as it goes toward bonkers directions in its final act.
The film tips its hat to several genre touchstones, for example, by framing the story on a sick child, the film smartly taps into two distinct fears. That of a kid who knows something is going on but is ignored by his parents and the adults, and of a medical thriller paranoia, where you’re not quite sure if the things you see are real or are hallucinations.
Written by David Chirchirillo, and Ian Goldberg, and Richard Naing, the script maximizes the mystery box elements for as long as possible, however, the trouble is that the film has very little to do in the meantime.
There is no doubt that director Ciarán Foy knows how to craft an effective scare. He made a name for himself with his feature debut, 2012’s Citadel, following it up the financially successful sequel, Sinister 2 (2015). Here too, director Foy crafts some terrific scares with what feels at first like an overly familiar tale, and finds plenty of terror in ghostly images and actions that arrive in silence to spook both viewers and Eli himself.
However, after a while the film seems just too too eager to keep the horror plates spinning, rather than exploring Eli’s predicament. Leading to a bunch of stock horror tropes that don’t connect up to the as-yet-unveiled conceit.
While the film is, in many ways, a horror-mystery, the actual ending of the film is bonkers, and you don’t need the ending of the film explained if you’re just paying attention. Whether you like the ending is another thing. If there’s any risk of the final reveal coming off as silly, the tone gives the rest of the cast no leeway to play into that.
Thankfully, the film is benefited greatly by Charlie Shotwell‘s performance, who despite his young age puts forward a pleasingly active protagonist, especially when compared to other sick children of horror. In supporting roles, Lili Taylor does good work even if her character is unavoidably suspicious from the outset, while both Kelly Reilly and Max Martini are equally compelling.
However, the most sparking performances comes from Sadie Sink (Stranger Things), who in an ambiguous role, offers the necessary humor. On the whole, ‘Eli’ is a spooky horror film with an original idea letdown by its unoriginal presentation.
Directed – Ciarán Foy
Rated – R
Run Time – 98 minutes