Updated: Nov 15, 2019
Directed By:Ciaran Foy, Written By: David Chirchirillo, Ian Goldberg & Richard Naing, Starring: Charlie Shotwell, Kelly Reilly, Max Martini & Lili Taylor.
It’s almost Halloween folks and you know what that means. It means that the good people at Netflix serve us with a plethora of horror movies, old and new. It also means that Starbucks serves pumpkin spiced lattes, but that’s a whole other area of Lee shaped pleasure.
I had somehow avoided anything pertaining to Eli, be it trailers or reviews containing spoilers, so I went into it knowing nothing. I’m thankful I did as it only added to my enjoyment.
Eli (Charlie Shotwell–The Nightingale, Captain Fantastic), suffers from a rare auto-immune disorder. Sadly, for Eli, this renders him allergic to the world, meaning he must spend his days, either living in a bubble (like Michael Jackson), or venturing out in a hazmat suit (the kind that those fellas in E.T. wore).
Eli’s father (Max Martini–13 Hours, Fifty Shades of Grey), learns of a clinic, specialising in the treatment of afflictions such as his sons so, along with his wife (Kelly Reilly–Eden Lake, Flight), sets off hoping to find a cure.
Upon arrival they’re greeted by the suspiciously friendly Dr Horn (Lili Taylor–The Conjuring), who has adapted a large, stately home into a safe, sterile environment for people with similar conditions, meaning Eli can move around the building, freely and without the confines of his hazmat suit.
At first, things seem fine. The treatment begins well and Eli feels optimistic. That is until the nightly visitations begin. Eli becomes plagued by things that go bump in the night, in a wonderfully orchestrated series of ghostly jump scares straight out of the J-horror handbook.
Ghosts are not the only visitors Eli receives. A strange girl, Haley (Sadie Sink–Max from Stranger Things), keeps showing up at the clinic, although she isn’t permitted to enter so she and Eli converse through a window. Haley seems to be the only one who believes he is experiencing paranormal activity, as Dr Horn has persuaded his parents that his visions are a side effect of the drugs she has him on.
The phantoms seem hellbent on writing the word LIE on everything they can get their spooky mitts on. Eli soon discovers that rather than Lie, his ghostly housemates have given him the access code (317) for Dr Horn's office.
This is where the film goes full blown Shyamalan and if you don’t want the end spoilt then look away now because the spoiler alert is well and truly in effect...
Eli was never sick. He is, in fact, the offspring of Satan (aren’t they all at that age?), and Dr Horn is less Quack and more Exorcist. Before you can say Rosemary’s Baby, we have flying nun inferno’s and exploding heads as Eli takes his newfound Linda Blair-ness quite badly.
I will admit, I didn’t see this twist coming. Obviously I knew there had to be one, but the film went in a direction I didn’t expect. While some may not appreciate this change of direction, I personally liked it. The site of nuns forced into levitating, inverted cross positions, while in flames is visually inspired.
The creepier scenes concerning the supernatural visitations that take place each night are deftly handled. Sure they rely a little on overused horror cliché, but I found them to be effective none the less. If a movie is driving me to scan every, dark corner of the screen in the hope of discovering something lurking, I would say that it has accomplished reeling me in.
The performances are on point, especially Shotwell as Eli. Child performances can be a hit and miss affair, and more times than not, I find myself aggravated by a whiny kid in a movie. Yeah, you Jake Lloyd. There's nothing WIZARD about The Phantom Menace and spinning is not a good trick so feel free to crash your Pod Racer into something.
Ciaran Foy, who directed Citadel and Sinister 2, calls the shots and while I’m not a huge fan of the latter, Citadel was a great movie and Foy clearly knows how to build tension. Utilising the dark, negative areas of a scene to great effect, causing you to question whether you actually see something or if it is all in your imagination.
Critically, the reactions to Eli appear mixed. For anyone looking for a well made, at times, spooky film to kick back to over the Halloween period, you could do a lot worse.