Netflix’s Eli is an uneven horror flick filled to the brim with jump scares and too many twists for it to make any sense.
Eli (Netflix), a new film by Ciarán Foy, opens as many horror movies do: with a nightmare. Foy wastes no time telling you that this is going to be anything else besides a horror movie. There isn’t a long introduction, scenes of a happy family, or even the go-to house-cleaning montage, and you can hear it from an instantly haunting score.
The film focuses on Eli, played by an always-confused yet detective-esque Charlie Shotwell, who is a young boy with an apparent autoimmune disorder which forces him to stay indoors at all times. Eli and his parents drive to an old house, which was once abandoned, in the middle of nowhere to meet with a special doctor who has the power to cure Eli.
Soon after, Eli finds that there is something amiss about this house and about Doctor Horn, played by a terrifying Lili Taylor. He believes he’s being haunted, or maybe helped, by Horn’s old patients, past children who have died in the house.
The film has everything you’d want in horror: lots of jump scares, dark surroundings, an awful father, a worried mother, scary medical procedures, hallucinations, ghosts, tons of religion, and a late exorcism. The acting is serviceable but the plot doesn’t go anywhere.
It’s a constant stream of buildups with slight payoffs, but there is no big finish. The twist at the end is shocking yes, but only because it makes absolutely no sense. It’s laughable; actually it’s hard not to laugh. It turns from a horror flick filled with spirits to a thriller with no backbone, focusing on a child who has incredible powers he somehow has never used.
The plot is hard to follow, due to the fact that there really isn’t one. Nothing is moving the story forward, except for the boy’s worsening condition. The parents continue to fight about some extramarital affairs, arguing about Eli’s best interests. The doctor grows increasingly frightening and her practices bursting with malpractice. Eli makes a friend in Haley, Stranger Things alum Sadie Sink, a young girl who happens to be living in the area, which is actually unlivable. Like most of the story, it doesn’t make much sense until the big reveal.
The backstory of the family is razor-thin, and the ending transforms into a family comedy, one that none of us signed up for. The kid was already impressive, for he picked a lock and fought off several demons, but he saves his best for last, and we soon learn that’s because of his parentage.
Foy crafts a scary environment, leans on a splendid score, and makes a film that people will enjoy, even if it’s far from perfect cinema. Crowds of people will watch this film, simply due to the platform of Netflix. It will be watched on first dates, as a hangover cure, and even while people are cooking dinner.
Eli will be best enjoyed with friends, though. It’ll be a Netflix film you turn on during cold nights in the winter, with full glasses of wine for all of the parties involved. It’s a movie you can laugh at, a movie you can cuddle to, and a movie you’ll forget quickly, which is the perfect storm for a streamable horror flick.
So, grab your remotes, turn on your TV, and turn the volume way up. Strap in for a bumpy ride, one that won’t change your life, but certainly might make your night a bit more fun.
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Michael is a regular critic for Ready Steady Cut and also writes for Cinema Sentries, The Film Experience and Film Inquiry.