Finding a horror movie that does something purely original is an extremely rare achievement. So rare in fact that it’s often satisfying just to find a movie that simply does the familiar things really well. And that’s the case with the new Netflix horror flick “Eli”. You won’t find much you haven’t seen before, but it uses its many horror conventions in a surprisingly fun and entertaining way.
The funny thing is “Eli” often uses our knowledge of horror genre norms against us. It starts us down one road, sells us on an idea, then pulls the rug completely out from under us. It all culminates in a batty final 15 minutes that does what a lot of good thrillers do – leaves you thinking about and second guessing everything you’ve seen before it.
The story follows a close-knit family of three. Eli (Charlie Shotwell) is a young boy suffering from an unnamed disease that causes intense burning reactions when exposed to ‘unclean’ air. This forces him to live within a protective bubble in his room and wear a hazmat suit whenever going outside.
His loving but stressed parents Rose (Kelly Reilly) and Paul (Max Martini) have looked far and wide for someone who could cure their son. They spend their last bit of savings taking Eli to Dr. Isabella Horn (Lili Taylor) who runs a remote treatment center and brags of a 100% cure rate among her patients. She operates out of a highly modernized plantation house that is hermetically sealed from any outside contaminates.
At first Eli is scared and hesitant but soon ecstatic to be able to leave his suit and have a semblance of normal living with his parents (while inside the facility of course). But once the treatments begin Eli starts having terrifying hallucinations. Dr. Horn calls it normal and attributes it to the side effects of her procedures. But c’mon, this is a horror movie. Of course there’s more to it than that.
This is where director Ciarán Foy starts to play around with our expectations. And unlike his last film, the painful “Sinister 2”, this one does a good job building suspense and keeping you guessing. Even those with good horror movie instincts will find it a challange pinning “Eli” down into any one horror sub-genre. Better yet, there isn’t an over-reliance on cheap jump scares. Sure we get a couple here and there, but Foy puts much more effort into developing a creepy atmosphere while leading us down some unexpected trails.
So what is Eli’s punishing disease? What is causing his nightmarish visions? Who is this mysterious girl (played by Sadie Sink from “Stranger Things”) who keeps showing up outside Eli’s window? How the heck does Foy pull off the film’s crazy yet satisfying final 15 minutes? Finding those answers proved to be more fun than I expected. And while “Eli” may trip over itself from time to time, it still does plenty of interesting things that make it a welcomed and worthwhile horror movie romp.
VERDICT – 4 STARS