Director: Ciaran Foy
Writer: David Chirchirillo, Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing
Producer: Trevor Macy, John Zaozirny
Stars: Charlie Shotwell, Max Martini, Sadie Sink, Lili Taylor, Kelly Reilly
Unable to go outside due to a genetic disorder, a young boy suspects his strange treatment facility may be haunted by malevolent ghosts.
One of the common criticisms of original movies premiering on Netflix is that they have little to no marketing. Not the high profile award contenders like ¡°The Irishman¡± or ¡°Dolemite Is My Name.¡± I mean the regular weekly releases that drop a cursory trailer or land a brief preview plug in some cobwebbed corner of the internet. The ones where the most favorable pre-release buzz you¡¯re likely to find is someone saying, ¡°yeah, I think I¡¯ve heard of that.¡± Then you maybe see the movie ¡°advertised¡± in a recommendation window once before it disappears from the streaming menu and your memory forever.
I¡¯m talking about ¡°Rattlesnake¡± (review here), ¡°Fractured,¡± ¡°In the Shadow of the Moon,¡± ¡°Apostle,¡± ¡°Hold the Dark,¡± and ¡°Extinction.¡± Or any of the countless other digital thrillers where you probably thought, ¡°I might want to watch that,¡± but never actually did.
The more of these movies I see, the more I understand why Netflix may be wise to not spend a single PR penny more than necessary. Few of these are evergreen movies that warrant revisiting or deep discussion. These productions are designed to effectively evaporate from public awareness for one simple reason: they only aspire to ride at a minimum speed in the middle of the road.
¡°Eli¡± can be Netflix¡¯s perfect poster child for this ¡°fair, but forgettable¡± genre fare. It looks the part of a professionally produced mid-tier effort. It also has enough of a hook to distinguish itself from similar flicks by being describable as ¡°that one where [a certain something happens].¡± That¡¯s only if anyone bothers to bring up ¡°Eli¡± ever again, which is another consequence of being ¡°in one ear and out the other¡± filler.
Eli¡¯s autoimmune disorder confines him to a plastic bubble inside his house and to homemade hazmat gear in the rare instances when his parents allow him outside. The movie depicts drunk trailer trash bullying the boy at a motel in a panicked moment where Eli rips his ¡°spaceman¡± suit and feels the ill effects of contaminated air and sunlight. It¡¯s an odd choice for a major ¡°sympathy scene¡± since it¡¯s reactive instead of proactive. The only other things we learn about Eli are that he enjoys magic tricks and makes a wish with his mother as a calming technique when he¡¯s in trouble.
Basically, Eli exhibits only superficial traits as a character, which sort of suits a superficial dramatic thriller. To avoid being too rude, let¡¯s just say Charlie Shotwell leans more toward Jake Lloyd than Anna Paquin on the spectrum of quality performances from a child actor. In other words, don¡¯t expect to become too attached to the titular tot. ¡°Eli¡¯s¡± average ingredients make emotional endearment a challenge.
Parents Paul and Rose take their son for an experimental treatment at a remote home converted into a medical facility. You know something sinister is up since the place looks like ¡°Resident Evil¡¯s¡± Spencer Mansion masquerading as a makeshift hospital. There are no other patients either. The look on Lili Taylor, who plays a doctor flanked by two strangely solemn nurses, further suggests there couldn¡¯t possibly be a creepier clinic to undergo a hush-hush procedure.
Even though Eli can¡¯t leave the grounds, he makes friends through a window with a neighbor named Haley. He also seemingly makes enemies with spirits of ghostly children only he can see. Naturally, the adults assure Eli his haunting visions are merely a side effect of his medication. All of this sets up a long, slow burn of tiptoeing down dark hallways and shirking at violent visions as Eli gradually unspools the mystery behind his illness and what¡¯s secretly going on in Dr. Horn¡¯s house.
On technical execution alone, director Ciaran Foy puts on a clinic for how to cinematically showcase supernatural shudders. One ghoul eerily appears only when Eli passes his flashlight over a particular spot in the dark. Another reflected ghost disappears in swaths as the boy wipes steam from a mirror. A lot of clich¨¦d chills come into play and Foy finds inventive ways to keep imagery engaging even when pacing isn¡¯t.
But there are only so many times Eli can jump at a shadow or get pulled by an unseen presence before the movie has to put beefier meat in the meal. And ¡°Eli¡± dangles its carrot for far longer that its skinny string of suspense has the strength to hold.
If you¡¯ve heard anything about ¡°Eli,¡± you¡¯ve probably heard it includes a twist. It¡¯s a pretty good one too. It¡¯s not wild enough to be beyond the bounds of sniffing out ahead of time, but it¡¯s nothing as basic as ¡°he was actually dead the whole time¡± either.
The reveal sets the table for a spectacular finale centered on a highly creative setpiece involving immolation and levitation. Satisfying though this sequence may be, the patience required to arrive there heavies eyelids in the process.
The first concrete hints regarding what¡¯s really happening don¡¯t drop until over an hour into the runtime, and that¡¯s only if eagle-eyed viewers notice the wink-wink names written on admission papers. Full beans spill just ten minutes before end credits. That¡¯s a long meantime to recycle routine scenes of Eli screaming at ghosts while everyone else assures him the horror is in his head. I¡¯d say the wait is worth it, though that¡¯s only true if you make liberal use of a fast forward feature.
Mostly a mood piece, ¡°Eli¡± really does epitomize both the mediocrity and the malaise associated with Netflix¡¯s assembly line of middle ground ¡°meh¡± movies. Consider it serviceable. Also consider selecting a more memorable option for an evening¡¯s entertainment. Watching ¡°Eli¡± yields the same result as not watching it all, because a majority of the movie will vanish from your mind¡¯s eye within a month at the most anyway.
Review Score: 55