‘Eli’ is the latest original horror picked up by Netflix after Paramount didn’t know what to do with it. The set up is quite simple: Eli, (Charlie Shotwell), is a sick 10 year old boy that lives his life in a bubble since pretty much everything in the open outside world could kill him. Air, water, food, all life-giving needs for us. could potentially kill young Eli in his extreme state of autoimmunity.
Seemingly hopeful, his parents (Kelly Reilly and Max Martini) find hope for him at a creepy but cliche facility in the middle of nowhere that will reverse his hyper-immunity and restore his life. Led by the definitely-has-something-to-hide doctor (Lili Taylor), Eli is quickly introduced to his panic-inducing treatments. Eli is subjected to needles, brain drills, and all types of terror on his road to “recovery”. He almost immediately feels worse and begins to question the expensive treatment after a few supernatural incidents.
Ghosts and eerie sounds lead Eli down dimly lit corridors, down creepy stairs, and every haunted trapping you can think of. Along the way he meets a young girl, Haley (Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink) who regularly meets him on the other side of the glass. Haley has met other kids there undergoing the same mysterious treatment as Eli. Sink is great and would add a layer of light to an otherwise second-rate film, but it’s not enough to help this film.
The entire film is a mystery. Are his parents really trying to help? Is there a secret insidious plot at hand? Is the doctor really trying to cure Eli? The film spends two complete acts and most of the third clumsily trying to create doubt and mystery, but it all it succeeds at is setting up a bizarre twist in the finale that was neither well thought out or delivered. Eli tries very hard to be shocking and serious in the film’s climax, but it comes across as silly and desperate since there is literally no subtle hints along the way.
As we get closer to Halloween, spend your precious October time watching a quality film instead. The best I can say about this is that Shotwell is very good as Eli, especially given his young age. That’s all I can applaud here.
Final score: D-