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On Netflix: ELI (2019)

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ELI
(US - 2019)

Directed by Ciaran Foy. Written by David Chirchirillo, Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing. Cast: Charlie Shotwell, Kelly Reilly, Lili Taylor, Max Martini, Sadie Sink, Deneen Tyler, Katia Gomez. (Unrated, 98 mins)

Originally set to be released in theaters back in January 2019, ELI was given the CLOVERFIELD PARADOX dumpjob treatment by Paramount, who abruptly yanked it from the release schedule and sold it to Netflix. That precedent serves as a red flag for this rampantly idiotic horror film that Paramount actually admitted they had no idea how to market (or, more likely, they knew they had a steaming turd on their hands that wasn't even worthy of some early January garbage time at the multiplex). It feels like several half-baked ideas crammed into one screenplay under the guise of "reveals" and "twists," but never establishing any consistency and often rendering past events nonsensical. But ELI is the kind of movie that doesn't want you to ask any questions or think too hard about it, lest you see how sloppily assembled and thoughtlessly executed it ends up being. It's too bad, because Irish director Ciaran Foy brought some style to both his promising 2012 debut CITADEL and 2015's intermittently interesting SINISTER 2, and two of the three credited writers (Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing) scripted 2016's terrifying THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, but whatever promise ELI might have in the early going is torpedoed at an alarming speed before completely collapsing in on itself in the home stretch.






Rose (Kelly Reilly) and Paul Miller (Max Martini) have stretched themselves to their financial limit caring for their young son Eli (Charlie Shotwell). He has a rare autoimmune disease where everything makes him sick, air and water burn his skin, and he's required to live in a plastic bubble or be in a sealed Hazmat-type suit if he goes outside. They're taking him to a clinic housed in an old manor that's been equipped with a state-of-the-art air filtration system and is run by Dr. Horn (Lili Taylor), a leading--and expensive--immunology specialist. Since the house is "clean," Eli is able to walk around without the plastic suit, but from Dr. Horn's nervous smile and askance glances, it's obvious that things aren't what they seem. The aggressive treatments make Eli's condition worse, underlying tensions between Rose and Paul start bubbling to the surface with clumsy dialogue like Rose insisting "We just have to have faith!" and a glaring Paul responding "I have always been a faithful man" with a cold terseness that borders on passive aggression, and Eli starts seeing ghostly, CGI apparitions of dead children who appear to have shuffled in from a circa 2003 Dark Castle production.


Dumbest of all is the handling of Eli's only friend, a sassy, snarky, red-headed teenager named Haley (STRANGER THINGS' Sadie Sink), who loiters around the property, talks to him through the windows, and seems to know a lot about what's happened with other children who have been treated at the clinic. Nobody else sees Haley until it's convenient for the plot, Eli never mentions her to anyone, and her own highly suspect backstory ("I live down the road"), coupled with her affected 'tude, doesn't in any way add an air of mystery to ELI. Rather, it spotlights its lax story construction and inept execution where plot twists and exposition dumps are just shat out willy-nilly with no concern over the effect they have on whatever happened before. Knowing what you know when it's over, ask yourself "Why are the Millers so financially strapped?" and "Would money even be a concern under those circumstances?" and "Where was Paul when that deal went down?" These complaints only make sense if you see the movie and experience first-hand its wholly unique brand of stupidity that's almost unparalleled in the horror genre in 2019. In the right hands, ELI could've been one of those "You know what...fuck it" sort-of gonzo batshit fright flicks that's so unabashedly ridiculous that you just roll with whatever it throws at you. But what's here is essentially audience contempt, with a final 15 minutes that's so out-of-nowhere and leads to so many "But, hold on...wait a minute...what the fuck?" questions that you'll wonder why Netflix didn't just re-title it CLOVERFIELD'S BABY and be done with it.



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