On October 18th Netflix dropped a strong contender for horror movie of the year with their latest original film Eli. How strong of a contender? Dude! I spent the last 15 minutes of this movie STANDING, with my hands on my head, yelling at the television. I watch tons of horror throughout the year and during October the viewing reaches a critical mass. With so many hours of horror viewing it is very rare to find something truly unique or with a truly unpredictable twist that you can’t see from a mile away, but this film nails it! This review will be spoiler free because the ending of this film is something that needs to be experienced.
Eli follows the story of a young boy with an auto-immune disorder seeking radical, unique treatment from a mysterious doctor (Lili Taylor) in a creepy old mansion. Eli is basically allergic to the world and lives his life similar to John Travolta in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Soon after he arrives at the creepy old mansion, strange things start happening in and around the house. First, a breath on the window, then a reflection moving in a mirror and then a full on free roaming apparition of a freaky kid ghost in the darkness. But are these phantasms real or simply figments of Eli’s imagination? A side effect of the medication? Only time will tell.
At about the same time the spooky ghosts start popping up so does a mysterious girl just outside of Eli’s window. Haley, played by Sadie Sink from Stranger Things, has come around the house many times and seen many of the doctor's patients. She further deepens Eli’s suspicions by telling him she believes the doctor is “shifty” and that the last patient never made it past phase 3 of the treatment. Now these treatments are not for the weak at heart, they are fairly gruesome and will make your skin crawl. In Phase 1 Eli is strapped to a table, they slice him open and hand drill a hole into his hip bone to inject the virus that will cure him. In Phase 2 the virus needs help breaking the blood brain barrier so they have to drill into his skull. Both of these scenes will absolutely make your skin crawl and the ghostly haunts in between them and their associated jump scares will keep you on edge for the duration of the film.
It’s very rare that a film can cross so many genres with ease but Eli does it fantastically. A quick glance at the trailer and you'll believe it's your standard american horror, a ghost story, a haunted house with a secret. As the film progresses though it leans heavily on psychological horror as the definitions of reality and drug induced hallucination bend, blur and cross paths, weaving an intricate web frights that will certainly appeal to fans of all types of horror.
This all builds until the climax of this film that explodes, flinging insanity and terror all over the screen. With the help of Haley just outside of his window Eli begins to investigate what’s really going on at the creepy old mansion and what lies the doctor may be hiding. This thing twists and turns so many times in the third act, its phenomenal. One moment you think it's going one way, the next moment the film pulls hard in a completely different direction before finally plunging you directly into darkness, a world you did not expect.
With all this oscillating back and forth between false finishes and reveals, the film wonderfully leaves you in a state of limbo where you are just watching with no idea what exactly is going on and what's coming next. It’s absolutely amazing because it does this without too much exposition. Too often modern horror films jump out of the shadows at the end and exclaim “HERE’S THE TWIST, LOOK AT IT” but Eli gives the viewers the opportunity to fill in the blanks with their mind. A refreshing change of pace indeed.
I watched this movie the day it came out with zero knowledge other than the spooky trailer. I expected a Conjuring type movie but was shocked, beyond shocked to find something much more complex and mesmerizing. An absolutely amazing film that I immediately put at the top of my Best Horror of 2019 list. Eli is one of those films people will be talking about once they catch wind of it, my fear is that many die-hard horror fans will shy away. A Netflix movie, with a kid and a trailer with a Conjuring feel? Listen, don’t judge a book by its cover, go check this one out now and be prepared for something truly amazing.
Eli was directed by Ciaran Foy and stars Sadie Sink, Kelly Reilly, Lili Taylor, and Charlie Shotwell.