Film Reviews

31 Days of Halloween: Eli

One of the things I love most about horror movies is their knack for twist endings. Give me a stupid, ingenious, confusing, or completely bonkers ending – I don’t care. Just give me something to talk about as soon as the movie is over. I want to forever worry about spoilers whenever The Sixth Sense comes up in conversation. I long to get super nerdy and debate if The Shining’s ending makes sense. I want someone to explain to me what exactly happened at the end of Candyman? (How were they suddenly able to hurt him?) I want to hear your take on how Lucas Guadagnino chose to wrap up his Suspiria remake. I’m still wondering if my reading of In Fabric’s ending is truly supported by the evidence.

It’s not exactly like the horror genre has the exclusive on this, but whether it’s one last jump scare or a logic-assaulting twist on the expected, horror movies have a way of sending us out on an adrenaline high (when done right) or WTF look on our face (when done wrong).

So, when I read the opening paragraph of Refinery29’s review of the new Netflix Original Eli I knew I had to add it to my watchlist:

I skipped the rest of the review, fired up the ole Netflix machine, did my best to forget everything about the film’s trailer I had watched two weeks earlier, and took in the crazy. Like so many others, I am now left feeling a tad unsure what to think. There are storytelling choices, and then there are storytelling choices. Eli is in that latter category. Good, bad, indifferent – it’s just bonkers enough that I can’t really regret having seen this movie.

I would now advise you to stop reading this review. Come back once you’ve finished. We gots some spoilering to do. Trust me, you don’t want to be around for that.

So, Eli’s actually a zombie. Who saw that coming?

Hey, you didn’t stop reading! I know you didn’t because you actually believed me about the zombie thing. I just made that up as a test. That’s not what actually happens in the movie. I’m serious now, if you don’t want to be spoiled, well, in the immortal words of South Park:

So, Eli’s the anti-christ or at least one of the devil’s many children. He never had an autoimmune disorder; that was just a lie his human parents told him to keep both him and the entire outside world safe. The medical facility actually doubles as a church that delivers exorcisms to those possessed patients it can’t save. On that same note, the ghosts in the house are the spirits of Eli’s half-brothers and half-sisters who were killed by the nurses/nuns when the exorcisms didn’t work.

And the mysterious redhaired girl (Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink) you’re meant to assume is probably just one of the ghosts is actually Eli’s very much alive half-sister, sent by good ole devil dad to see who among his many children is powerful enough to survive on their own.

So cliched, right? The sick kid in a haunted house movie that turns into a modern Exorcist/Omen mash-up? Once you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it…well, probably still just the one time. It’s a pretty unique off-ramp for a movie that spends the majority of its time playing like a lesser, but still spooky The Haunting of Hill House. (The two projects do hail from the same producers.)

Does this ending actually make sense, though? Kind of. There are all sorts of breadcrumbs sprinkled along the way, such as a moment where Eli’s father admonishes his mother for praying. “Like any amount of prayer is going to save us,” he laments. Oh, they’re super suspicious, we’re meant to think in that specific moment, only to look back later and realize just what they were actually arguing about. Multiple other examples abound.

Is it more than a little jarring to see Eli, a mostly likable and sympathetic kid for the bulk of the movie, suddenly turn all Damien on us, floating in the air and using his powers to kill everyone other than his birth mother? You betcha, but, remember, they were all trying to kill him first and had been lying to him about his very existence. Does that justify him using his magic hands to crush his human father’s skull like a ripe melon? Well, no, but, all kids do mean things when they’re really mad.

Is Eli a good movie? Bad? So bad it’s good? So batshit crazy it’s both bad and good?

Netflix Originals almost require their own grading scale here. Good, bad, a Netflix Original cares not for these things. For the record, Eli was actually produced by Paramount and then picked up by Netflix, meaning it is an acquisition not something developed and produced in-house. Still, it comes with the Netflix Original label, and a Netflix Original is first and foremost content designed to satisfy an algorithm.

Appropirately enough, Eli does play out like an AI algorithm’s version of a horror movie. It isn’t necessarily an entirely fluid storytelling experience from beginning to end, but it’s definitely a collection of horror tropes that exist in the world even if they rarely ever go together quite like this. What Netflix wants out of something like Eli is for everyone to make memes and GIFs and talk about it online. With an ending like that, mission accomplished.

Where to Stream

Netflix

31 Days of Halloween So Far:

Next Up: Death, there’s an app for that.

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