Eli on Netflix: Where Science and Religion Meet With Mediocre Results

With Netflix and Chills in full swing, the streaming giant finally gives horror fans a new chiller for the season. Though Paramount Pictures produced Eli, it declined to screen it in theatres. Instead, the studio offloaded the movie to Netflix for some reason. Whatever the reasoning, Eli’s trailer promises an intriguing mix of haunts, creepy kids, and science gone awry. But does the promotional material deliver on what it promises? And will audiences have a clue what’s going on when everything ends? Spoilers follow the overall rating at the end of the review.

Synopsis

Four years ago, a rare auto-immune disorder took over young Eli’s life. Now Eli is ‘allergic’ to the outside world, only venturing outside in a full Hazmat suit. Desperate and broke, Eli’s parents take him to a secluded mansion that serves as a specialized treatment facility. Here, Dr Isabella Horn promises a difficult experimental procedure that may cure Eli. But when Eli begins seeing strange things in the middle of the night, he begins to fear that Dr Horn’s ‘treatment’ may not be intended to cure him.

Conventional Scares Hinder Interesting Premise

Director Ciarán Foy has a bit of a mixed history in the genre. His feature-length debut, Citadel, was an effectively atmospheric chiller. But Sinister 2 was a disappointing follow-up. That ‘hit and miss’ history finds its way into Eli, which relies heavily on familiar scares. A mash-up of pseudo-science and haunted house movies, Eli leans more on the latter at the expense of what’s arguably the more interesting premise. Almost immediately upon arriving at Dr Horn’s facility (that looks oddly like a haunted mansion), things start going bump in the night. And in the early going, Foy establishes some early tension and nails a few scares. Spooky, misshapen figures emerge from and disappear into shadows. Door creep open and nightmares end with jolts. Though they are indeed familiar, Eli’s story offers enough mystery alongside decent pacing to keep you watching.

Foy’s ghostly figures may serve up the jumps, but it’s the experimental treatment scenes that intrigue and repulse simultaneously.

Still one can’t help but feel there was a better movie somewhere in the screenplay. When Dr Horn starts her mysterious treatments, Eli feels like it might flirt with body horror a la David Cronenberg. Foy’s ghostly figures may serve up the jumps, but it’s the experimental treatment scenes that intrigue and repulse simultaneously. Had Eli elected to delve deeper into the ethics and side-effects of ‘science gone wrong’ a decent two-thirds of a movie might have been a good horror movie. Instead, Foy offers a curious movie with recycle haunted house bits … at least for an hour or so.

Eli Takes Bizarre Left Turn in Final Act

Throughout Netflix’s latest release, there’s eccentric plot lines dangling here and there. Any seasoned horror fan will Know something isn’t quite right with Dr Horn. As the story unfolds, Eli’s dad exhibits increasingly odd behaviour. And Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink sets off warning bells from here first appearance. Yet just when you think you know what’s going on, Eli takes an abrupt left-turn. At this point, Eli becomes almost an entirely different movie. Whether it’s better than the movie you were watching is debatable. What’s not open to debate is the nonsensical nature of the twist. Eli requires a set of almost impossible mental gymnastics to make its twist work. Everything in the final act invalidates the entire first two-thirds of the movie. At least the movie’s shift allows Foy to show off some interesting and distinct horror visuals.

Solid Cast Grounds Netflix Chiller At Its Strangest Moments

Credit to Eli’s cast who never give in to the movie’s sillier impulses. Several familiar faces keep things grounded, even as the story threatens to go off the rails. Genre veteran Lili Taylor (The Conjuring, Leatherface) menaces with a quiet demeanour. Too bad Eli underutilizes the talented actress. As a newer member of the Stranger Things cast, Sadie Sink (Hailey) impresses again with her limited screen time. Charismatic and talented, Sink has a bright future. Fans of the underrated Eden Lake and cheesy Netflix horror series, The Order, will also recognize Kelly Reilly and Max Martini, playing Eli’s parents.

Too bad Eli underutilizes the talented actress.

But it’s Charlie Shortwell, playing ‘Eli’, who steals the movie. Child actors can be hit and miss. And a lot is required of Shortwell in the movie, and he more than rises to the challenge. As the title character, Shortwell delivers a complex, layered performance. Given his illness, Eli should feel older than his age, and that’s the character Shortwell gives us. He’s sympathetic and believable throughout the movie, even when his character is stuck going through the motions of similar (and better) movies. Like his character, Shortwell’s talent exceeds his age.

Eli Offers Two Movies for the Price of One

Despite two-thirds of decent, if not familiar, horror, Eli goes off the rails in its final act. Or perhaps more accurately, Eli becomes a completely different movie. The Netflix thriller doesn’t so much deliver a twist as it just flips the script. On the one hand, Eli is never boring and offers enough scares and intrigue to keep audiences watching. Even its big reveal at least makes for a surprise in what would have been a forgettable genre movie. Nothing about the ending works, but younger horror fans my find Eli mildly distracting.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C+

SPOILERS

Eli does not have an auto-immune disorder – he’s not sick. No, Eli’s is the Devil’s son. His parents have known this little tidbit for years. Apparently, Eli’s mother – desperate for a child – turned to Satan when God wouldn’t answer her prayers. Dr Horn and her treatment team are actually nuns (though Horn herself may be a scientist as well … it’s not clear). When their medical treatment fails, Horn resorts to a good, old-fashioned exorcism. It fails miserably, and Eli leaves with his mother and Hailey (an emissary of the Devil, though it’s also unclear) to find his Father. And all the other children who died in the treatment facility – also Satan’s offspring.

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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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