Horror is making a comeback like never before. Not since the 80’s have we seen the constant barrage of well produced horror flicks hit theaters. From IT to the Conjuring franchise the fear is back and in full force. While the big screen is getting it’s share of horror films, it seems this advent is not limited to theaters with streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix getting in on the trend.
Today’s film is an interesting take on the classic ‘bubble boy’ story. We all know the bubble boy, whether it is from the classic film starring John Travolta or the more comedic one with Jake Gyllenhaal, the concept is a known one. This film, however, takes the concept a step further making the ailment take a much darker turn.
Taking their son Eli (Charlie Shotwell) to a doctor who claims to be able to cure him, Rose (Kelly Reilly) and Paul (Max Martini) soon find themselves facing a cure that might cost them more than they were asking for in a house that might be haunted. Also starring Lili Taylor, Sadie Sink, Deneen Tyler and Katia Gomez, this is a dark tale of secrets and revelations.
Immediately we are presented with an interesting situation. Not only is the lead character Eli dealing with a sever immunodeficiency issue but his parents are so determined to cure his ailment that they have given up everything to save him. Clad in a hazmat suit, the trio soon find themselves at an old mansion in the middle of nowhere where they come face to face with the doctor who claims to have a cure, one Dr Horn (Lili Taylor). Dr. Horn initially comes across as a person who truly cares for her newest patient. Accompanied by her two, rather strange, nurses (Tyler and Gomez) it is not until the haunting begin that we start to get a sense that something isn’t quite right with this medical trio. Seemingly haunted by ghosts and facing a cure that is only making him feel worse, Eli comes to rely on his private conversations with a young woman named Haley (Sink), who for some reason only visits him from the outside of the house via a small glass room in which Eli is protected from the elements.
This is where things start to get crazy and, in the spirit of keeping this spoiler free, I will leave the mystery of the haunting and strange staff unsolved in this review. That being said, a mystery it is even though there are very subtle clues all about as to what is going on.
Knowing that there is a twist to a film will typically ruin the film as you find yourself hunting every frame for tells in the deceit. In most cases those tells are apparent if you pay attention, in this film however, director Ciaran Foy manages to reward repeated viewings making you only aware of the clues once you know the surprises at the end. They are subtle giving this film an almost Rosemary’s Baby like quality forcing you to wonder throughout if Eli is indeed facing a haunting or is just hallucinating everything as the good Doctor claims.
Foy takes writers David Chirchillo, Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing’s work and makes this into a genuinely frightening tale of the unknown all with characters who are essentially trapped in a clean house with the threat of not only ghosts but the poisons of the outside world bearing in on them. Under Foy’s direction, every actor brings their ‘A’ game to create something special in the film ‘Eli’. Relative newcomer Charlie Shotwell shows a special talent giving him an almost Haley Joel Osment quality not seen since Osment’s time as a child actor. Accompanying his excellent acting role is Sadie Sink who viewers might recognize from the latest season of Stranger Things. Sink really shows her chops in a rather mysterious role that keeps viewers wondering who she might be and what her agenda is, even though she seems to only have Eli’s best intentions at heart.
Eli’s parents, played by Kelly Reilly and Max Martini, come across a genuinely caring family who are under a great deal of stress. Reilly really shines as a concerned mother channeling a role that honestly felt like it was written for Rebecca De Mornay. Not only does Reilly dominate her part, she owns the screen with every appearance making her that much more endearing to both her son and the audience. Martini manages to play a great opposite to Reilly’s mother character, coming across as a man who is angry at the world for what he is having to deal with. At times it is hard to tell if he is simply angry at the world or angry at Eli and, while that comes across as jarring at times, in the end it makes sense. Both manage to balance one another providing a genuine chemistry that sometimes seems on the edge of exploding.
Rounding out the cast are Lili Taylor as Dr. Horn and her two nurses, Barbra and Maricela played by Deneen Tyler and Katie Gomez. Lili Taylor is best known for her work in the Conjuring series and manages to make the most from her role as Dr Horn giving the character both a professional and mysterious quality. It is clear that Horn has secrets and Taylor manages to give off the air of someone who cares deeply for what she does, no matter the cost. Her nurses, Tyler and Gomez, manage to enhance Lili Taylor’s role giving the trio an almost disturbing quality as they work to help cure Eli of his ailments.
Bear McCreary provides the score to this film giving it an almost ethereal quality. Having scored several other Horror films including the recent Child’s Play and The Boy, McCreary is no stranger to the world of fear and it shows. McCreary’s greatest skill is never overpowering the dialogue or the action on the screen, providing almost an unseen character that embodies the house and the ghosts themselves.
Speaking of the ghosts, the special effects in this film are simply stunning. Using a combination of makeup and shadow-play, Director Ciaran Foy manages to create some truly frightening moments with minimal exposure to the spirits themselves all the while leaving the audience wondering what is real and what is in Eli’s head. This, coupled with some outstanding cinematography, gives the film Eli a very frightening and very unique look and feel.
The Bottom Line
Overall, Eli is a great example of storytelling done right using horror as a backdrop. While the film does have some genuinely frightening moments it’s twist at the end is one that will have you wanting to watch it again if only to look for the details you might have missed. With an excellent cast and a fantastic production, this is a nice addition to Netflix’ offerings giving me hope that they will have more like this in the future.
You can currently watch Eli on Netflix, do yourself a favor and give it a go. I think you might dig this one.
Thanks for reading!
Late To The Game 10/27/2019
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