Eloise: A Ghost Story That Never Fully ‘Commits’ To Its Setting

Horror movies love to throw around the ‘based on a true story’ proclamation regardless of how much truth is present. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that there was in fact a psychiatric facility named Eloise that operated from the early 1800’s to the 1980’s. Aside from its setting and location, direct-to-video thriller Eloise doesn’t share much else in common with the former facility. In fact, Eloise probably owes more to its fictional counterparts than to any historical records.

Synopsis

Jacob Martin, a former juvenile delinquent, struggles to eke out a living as a mechanic. But Jacob gets some good news when a lawyer calls to tell him his father has passed away and left him a sizeable inheritance. There’s only one catch – Jacob must prove he’s the sole heir by finding his mother’s death certificate. A former patient at the defunct Eloise psychiatric facility, Jacob and childhood friend, Dell, must search the now abandoned building. Along the way, they meet amateur Eloise historian, Scott, and his protective sister Pia. But Eloise’s empty halls hide more than just dusty records.

Eloise Wastes Its Settings

Abandoned asylums present an ideal setting for horror movies. Anyone who’s taken an Introductory Psychology course has passing knowledge of how the mentally ill were historically treated. Barbaric practices, like trepanning, almost beg to be adopted in horror movies. Past movies like Session 9, The House on Haunted Hill remake, and found-footage chiller Grave Encounters have all exploited these past horrors of confinement and medical experimentation associated with grand Gothic asylums.

Everything Eloise has to offer has been done before. Images of unethical experiments on patients that should be shocking just come across as stilted and tired.

Yet despite director Robert Legato shooting right on location at the former Eloise hospital, the movie completely wastes any potential. In fact, for much of the movie, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that it was even filmed in an old asylum. Regrettably, Legato just never fully utilizes his setting. Many of the camera shots are so darkly lit and cramped that Eloise could have just as easily been shot in a studio. None of the Gothic potential of the location is captured, leaving the movie devoid of atmosphere and tension.

Derivative Storytelling and Over-Used Imagery Sink Eloise

What it lacks in atmosphere and tension is more than compensated with stock horror tropes. Christopher Borrelli’s story liberally borrows from movies you’d probably rather be watching. Unethical medical experiments on patients? Yes, Borrelli has seen The House on Haunted Hill remake. The tortured souls of past patients still residing in abandoned halls? Borrelli watched Session 9 and Grave Encounters, too. And if you’re looking for a good scary movie set in an abandoned asylum, you’d be better off watching those movies.

Everything Eloise has to offer has been done before. Images of unethical experiments on patients that should be shocking just come across as stilted and tired.

By and large, Eloise feels closest to the 2001 version of The House on Haunted Hill and the more recent Grave Encounters. Past and present bleed into one another as our four main characters wander dark hallways. Still everything Eloise offers has been done before. Images of unethical experiments on patients that should be shocking just come across as stilted and tired. Nothing in the movie ever approaches being scary. There’s an attempt to throw a narrative curveball near the movie’s end. But at that point you’re likely to be so disengaged as to not care much one way or the other.

Eliza Dushku Deserves Better than Eloise

Genre favourite Eliza Dushku deserves so much better than Eloise. She’s a talented actress that’s struggled to find good roles since Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Wrong Turn. Even in a stale movie like Eloise, Dushku still manages to rise above the material and stand out as the best part.

No one else remotely registers. Chase Crawford’s performance is dull and more transparent than the move’s ghosts. P.J. Byrne annoys as the mentally unstable Scott. Not even veteran character actor Robert Patrick can do much to inject intensity into the movie. As the requisite unethical psychiatrist, Patrick seems bored with everything going on around him.

Skip Eloise and Just Watch Session 9 or Grave Encounters

Ultimately, Eloise is more boring than bad. There’s nothing necessarily awful about the movie. It suffers largely from a dull story and inability to effectively exploit its setting to generate any real feeling of fear. What we’re left with is a movie that is inoffensive but equally unmemorable. If you want a good scary movie set in an abandoned asylum, just watch Session 9 or Grave Encounters.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C-

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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