Eli review – schlocky Netflix horror devolves into supernatural silliness

A boy questions the veracity of some nasty experimental treatment in a promisingly twisty tale that ultimately crashes and burns

Offloaded to Netflix by Paramount, who reportedly couldn’t figure out how the heck to market it, supernatural horror flick Eli arrives with a number of question marks eerily circulating. In a hugely profitable time for the genre, how could a major studio not figure out how to make some theatrical profit from a low-budget horror film? What’s the big twist at the film’s sinister core? And most importantly, can it possibly be even half as bad as The Cloverfield Paradox?

The disastrous threequel was the last film dumped by Paramount on the streaming platform and while some were initially surprised by the decision, anyone who eventually endured the wretched thing was in full support. While Eli isn’t quite as inexcusably incoherent, it’s still something of a misshapen mess and one that might have struggled to lure an audience on the big screen. On Netflix, it’s far better suited, living alongside the platform’s ever-populating library of mediocre genre offerings.

Eli (Captain Fantastic and The Nightingale star Charlie Shotwell) suffers from an extreme auto-immune disorder that’s made the outside world an impossibility. But his parents (Kelly Reilly and Max Martini) may have found a solution. In a remote, and comically creepy, mansion, a doctor (Lili Taylor) is offering an expensive experimental treatment that she claims will cure him. Risking everything, the family heads to the middle of nowhere in the hope that Eli might be able to finally live a normal life. But Eli is convinced that something is wrong. Why is the treatment making him feel worse? Can he really trust the doctor? And why is he being plagued by pesky ghosts?

Rather like the wonderful, little-seen New Zealand comedy horror Housebound, Eli is a haunted house film where the person being haunted is unable to leave. It’s a nifty way of ensuring that a character who should otherwise be heading for the hills is forced to endure and then investigate the source of the malevolence. But are the ghosts trying to harm or help Eli? For a while there’s some fun in trying to figure it all out with him and the film carefully leaves a number of possibilities dangling. It works better as a mystery than a horror with director Ciarán Foy strangely incapable of constructing a solid fright. The film is scattered with a number of familiar horror sequences, from a couple of nasty dreams to some extended jump scares, but none of them really land.

It’s a mostly one-location film and, despite experience within the genre, Foy is never able to turn the house into enough of a character, it’s never as frightening as it should be, atmosphere evaporating fast. The details of the plot prove more involving than the film that surrounds it, the script chugging along with speed, leading us along with curiosity at just what the film’s big twist will be. When it comes, it’s a decent surprise but it’s confusingly, messily revealed and the film crumbles soon after, devolving into laughable silliness, almost deliberately so, as if Foy wasn’t sure how to sell the finale with a straight face. Performances are mostly bland although Taylor does have some fun weaponising the soft tone of her voice.

Like The Cloverfield Paradox before it, Eli is a film more suited to the small screen, where audience members can multi-task, perhaps even search for something better to watch next.

  • Eli is available on Netflix now

Contributor

Benjamin Lee

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Rattlesnake review – disposable supernatural Netflix thriller lacks bite
Carmen Ejogo is a mother forced to make a horrifying sacrifice in a staggeringly dull film bereft of suspense, creativity and purpose

Benjamin Lee

25, Oct, 2019 @7:01 AM

Article image
The Perfection review – gory Netflix horror offers imperfect intrigue
Get Out’s Allison Williams plays a mysterious cellist in an intermittently alluring yet flatly directed B-movie that tries too hard to shock

Benjamin Lee

23, May, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
Apostle review – exhilarating Netflix horror is a wild, gory surprise
Gareth Evans, director of The Raid, shocks and confounds with an ultra-violent tale of a mad prophet that transforms into something entirely unexpected

Charles Bramesco

10, Oct, 2018 @3:26 PM

Article image
Night Teeth review – stylish Netflix vampire horror needs more bite
There’s a certain flair to director Adam Randall’s Collateral-with-blood-sucking caper but not enough to disguise a reheated script

Benjamin Lee

20, Oct, 2021 @5:45 PM

Article image
Velvet Buzzsaw review – Netflix art world horror is flawed but fun
Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo reunite with Nightcrawler writer-director Dan Gilroy for a silly-but-energetic film that tries to match scares with satire

Benjamin Lee

29, Jan, 2019 @12:41 AM

Article image
Death Note review – overstuffed Netflix horror is a flawed but fun emo ride
This chaotic Hollywood adaptation of the celebrated Japanese series has enough going on for an entire season – but there are still reckless thrills to be had

Benjamin Lee

25, Aug, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
In the Tall Grass review: Stephen King Netflix horror gets lost in the weeds
An adaptation of a novella co-written by the author’s son Joe Hill starts out with promise but soon descends into repetitive and nonsensical theatrics

Benjamin Lee

04, Oct, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
No One Gets Out Alive – a stylish Netflix immigration horror
A mostly impressive gothic chiller tells the story of an undocumented Mexican woman facing down sinister forces in Ohio

Benjamin Lee

29, Sep, 2021 @5:50 PM

Article image
Hypnotic review – schlocky Netflix thriller will send you to sleep
This cheap, deeply silly, film about an evil hypnotherapist relies on too many smart people acting stupidly

Benjamin Lee

27, Oct, 2021 @7:01 AM

Article image
The Titan review – unexciting Netflix sci-fi squanders its premise
Sam Worthington is a lifeless protagonist in a film about a government genetics experiment to evolve man into space

Jake Nevins

30, Mar, 2018 @12:00 AM