There is something truly dreadful about possessed kids in horror movies that belies their otherwise innocent image. This is probably the reason why some of the most horrifying tales feature kids who may look innocuous but are driven by the most sinister of intentions. Speaking of kids in horror movies, who can forget Damien Thorn, the satanic 4-year-old from ‘The Omen’; the scalpel-wielding Gage Creed from King’s ‘Pet Sematary’; or even the seemingly innocent family mass murderers from ‘Sinister’.
Netflix’s ‘Eli’ is a twisty horror-thriller that shares a lot of similarities with the aforementioned movies but somehow manages to stand out due to its smart writing. Directed by Ciaran Foy, who is also known for his work in ‘Sinister 2’ and ‘Citadel’, ‘Eli’ initially seems like mishmash of predictable ideas but eventually ends up offering a lot more than a few jump scare moments.
The film opens up with a picturesque scene where a young boy takes a breath of fresh air and heads towards his family who seem to be picnicking in a green frolic surrounding. But he soon falls to the ground and as he gasps for air, he starts screaming for help with his skin slowly burning into a deep shape of crimson.
Read More: Eli Ending, Explained
Eli (Charlie Shotwell) suffers from a severe autoimmune disease that can literally get triggered by anything in his surroundings. Forced to live in a quarantined environment, Eli’s is life is very different from most regular kids of his age. But a ray of hope shines on him and his family when his parents, Rose (Kelly Reily) and Paul (Max Martini), find a doctor who claims that she can cure his illness through a series of experimental procedures. Eli is instantly moved to a “clean house” which is pretty much the perfect representation of every haunted mansion from iconic horror movies. But as it turns out to be, it’s this “clean house” where Eli will not only be treated but will also be able to roam around freely without his quarantine bodysuit.
From the first day itself, Eli’s safe haven starts to give him a gloomy sense of claustrophobia. While Eli’s concern towards the place and the doctor’s intentions start to grow, you can’t help but put all your faith in his character. His parents seem to be blinded by the dreamy claims of the doctor who brainwashes them into believing that she will be able to fix everything but Eli, as he starts to interact more with his terrifyingly grim environment, grows more paranoid of what the outcome of his treatment could be. The first half of the film is bolstered with some well-done jump scares that involve ghostly murmurs, hovering twisted shadows and figures, graphic surgery scenes where drills are inserted in Eli’s skull. But what really shakes you to core is the realization that that “ELI” can actually be rearranged to spell “LIE”.
As Eli starts to complain, the doctor keeps convincing the parents that “he is going to get worse before he gets any better”. This is when Sadie Sink (Stranger Things), a plucky young neighbor, starts to get inside Eli’s head. For the most part, Sadie brings in a lighter tone to the overall gritty atmosphere of the film but her character proves to be quite significant much later.
Meanwhile, the doctor leaves you perplexed, so much so that along with Eli’s parents, even you feel brainwashed as a viewer. Kelly Reily and Max Martini very well portray their characters as concerned parents who are just blinded by their faith in the treatment process and are willing to go above and beyond everything to cure their son. But the best performance in the film obviously comes from Charlie Shotwell who, as Eli, perfectly encapsulates the essence of his role as singled-out yet overpowered character.
Whatever first impressions you might have had about the characters are thrown right out of the window in the final act. What starts off as generic haunted house thriller, turns out to be a little goofy but surprisingly refreshing take at the horror genre in the end. ‘Eli’ certainly drifts away from its conventional sounding premise, and ultimately, wins you over. When it comes down to its scary moments, there is nothing exceptionally disturbing or even outstanding. If you have been a long-time horror fan like me, you will be not sitting with your hands clasped. Though, what will really blow your socks off is its quirky and unexpected ending. Overall, ‘Eli’ is a perfect Friday night watch!
Read More: Eli Ending, Explained