Eli (2019) – movie review

Eli. Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix

Just like the last two Fridays, Netflix has released a bunch of (new and older) horror movies leading up to Halloween. This week’s highlight is most definitely Eli, where we follow a boy (unsurprisingly named Eli) with a nasty and rare auto-immune disorder that doesn’t allow him to stay outside of sterile areas. When his mom (Kelly Reilly) and dad (Max Martini) find out about a place where Eli could be cured, the family moves there and Doctor Isabella Horn (Lili Taylor) reassures them about the safety of the environment for the boy: Eli, however, feels that something is awfully wrong there…

Directed by Ciaràn Foy, this movie had me quite on the fence, despite the promising-looking trailer. This is because Citadel (2012) was a damn cool film, whereas the most recent movie he made before Eli, Sinister 2 (2015), was a total pile of garbage.

Continue reading and check my final grade below… 

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Well, it seems that Citadel was kind of a fluke for Foy, since Eli really isn’t a good movie, for many reasons.

The opening sequence, which usually is one of the most exciting moments in horror cinema, here is just a dumb, pointless dream-sequence, which is also followed by some over-the-top, embarrassingly unrealistic bullying the titular character is subjected to.

This overreliance on overplayed clichés only increases as the film goes on: lazy and predictable jump-scares happen when you most expect them and only serve as a way to keep certain audience members engaged while literally nothing interesting is going on either visually or story-wise. The score, which seems to be entirely taken from the stock music catalogue, is very manipulative (on the level of Disney flicks) and implies emotions we wouldn’t otherwise feel because the characters can’t deliver them. The setting itself (mysterious lab/haunted house) serves as the most obvious location for this kind of movie.

Dull and uninspired flicks of this ilk can be saved, sometimes, by interesting characters that can either be intriguing or relatable (or both). In Eli, unfortunately, this doesn’t happen, simply because there are no characters. Everyone in the movie is an archetype that only resembles what these people are supposed to be: the mom feels sorry for her son (that’s her character), the dad is tough and manly (that’s his character), the doctor is shady (that’s her character), and so on.

Because of that, the actors have nothing to work with. Both Kelly Reilly (Eden Lake) and Lili Taylor (Chambers) have proven in the past to be talented, but here their performances (like everybody else’s) are abysmal, as they probably weren’t given any competent direction. This is a particularly dreadful issue when your main character (in this case Eli, played by Charlie Shotwell) is very unlikeable and annoying from start to end: on top of that, the actor who plays Eli couldn’t deliver a single line without me chuckling along. I don’t necessarily blame him, though, it might have been the director’s fault in not wanting to put effort into getting a good performance out of a child actor. Luckily, Sadie Sink (Max from Stranger Things 2 and 3)’s sporadic appearances in the movie are a breath of fresh air: she truly brings a lot of personality to an otherwise bland picture with archetypical characters.

Foy’s laziness (or lack of care) is truly the biggest issue with Eli. If almost the entirety of your movie is just the carbon-copy of other mediocre and subpar supernatural horror flicks, how can you expect your audience not to be bored to tears? I, honestly, struggled to stay awake throughout most of Eli, as I was finding myself increasingly more bored by everything that was presented in the film.

As negative as this review is, though, Eli is not a totally hopeless picture: it has a few sparks of quality that prevent it from being one of the worst horror films of the year. The main positive about this movie is the ending: the last 20 minutes completely subvert your expectations in a way that manages to be original, entertaining and visually engaging. Some gore is added in the mix as well at this point and, even though the effects aren’t convincing, it’s quite refreshing to see proper violence in what would be a just another tame PG-13 flick otherwise.

Yet, Eli has good production values (after all, Paramount isn’t exactly an indie company…), which emerge particularly in two specific scenes – one in a hallway, one in the lab – with nice visuals and camera-work. The makeup effects are, also, pretty decent for the most part and, despite the overabundance of jump-scares, one of them is quite creative in the way it’s executed and, thus, rather scary.

Given its satisfying conclusion, Eli has a concept that’s full of potential, which is revealed in some scenes sprinkled throughout the runtime. People who like this kind of horror flicks (a la The Curse of La Llorona, The Possession of Hannah Grace, The Last Exorcism…) might actually enjoy Eli as well. Everyone else, though, would probably be either bored or annoyed at a movie that only uses clichés and archetypes as its main driving forces, which is why they should steer clear of it.

Eli                                                        4/10

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