Eli, the latest streaming horror movie on Netflix, both asks and answers the question, “What’s creepier than a hospital?”
It starts with young Eli (Charlie Shotwell), who’s very sick. He’s basically a “bubble boy” who cannot deal with the toxins and allergens of the open air and must live his life behind a protective film of plastic. When he’s not walking around in a hazmat suit, he’s stuck inside the clear plastic tent of a mobile living space. His parents (Kelly Reilly and Max Martini) do everything they can so that he can live a normal life. This includes downsizing their lives so that he can get a series of special procedures from Dr. Horn (Lili Taylor) at her remote facility.
Dr. Horn’s massive sanitarium seems too good to be true. She has a track record of successfully treating other children with Eli’s affliction despite it being an inherited genetic condition. The whole family will stay in the mansion during the treatment, and it’s even a “clean” space where Eli can shed his protective suit and live like a regular kid.
Soon after Eli begins his treatments, he sees a different side of Dr. Horn. Her manner shifts drastically when Eli’s parents are out of sight, and her insistence on them sleeping apart only adds to Eli’s restless nights. Could the intense treatment be the reason for his interrupted sleep, or might the complex be haunted?
Eli is the kind of horror throwback that revels in going completely off the rails as it careens towards an insane and nearly inexplicable crescendo. It seems to roll around in the plot holes it creates just as it’s easing into the chaos, and is better for it. This is by no means a nuanced or atmospheric horror film, and it isn’t trying to be, but it does have enough gumption to keep our attention and enough momentum to keep the plot hurtling forward.
That can-do attitude can only carry a movie so far. Despite the risks Eli takes, at its core the movie is not very good. The performances are expected but competent. The scares are hollow jump-shocks where the score tells you precisely what’s coming next, but the movie has nothing fundamentally scary to carry the terror beyond that moment. The biggest character in the film – the hospital – is bland and underwhelming.
Those who bemoan contemporary horror as too heady or slow burning will get a kick of the rapid deterioration of the plot and internal integrity in Eli. It’s as fun as it is silly, and offers some escapist levity.