Bridie Adams appreciates Eli’s adoption of classic horror tropes but ultimately finds it a confusing watch.
Eli, directed by Ciarán Foy, is one of Netflix’s most talked-about horror films this year. Consistently ranking in the UK Top 10 since becoming available on Netflix, the film has attracted the attention of many horror fans. This popularity may be attributed to the horror trope-filled opening, with the typical features of the haunted house, the ghost, and the sinister medical treatment. However, the way in which the film develops subverts the norms of the horror genre and twists the audience’s view of the entire plot, making the ending of Eli somewhat intriguing, yet highly confusing.
Initially, the plot is captivating, mostly due to the ambiguity surrounding Eli’s condition and the treatment he must undergo. The sense of mystery surrounding the entire story is what compels the audience, but also what becomes confusing towards the end of the film. The lines between truth and lie become more and more blurred as the plot progresses, leaving the audience to wonder which characters can and cannot be trusted, who Eli can rely upon and whether or not he should attempt to escape the house. These vast areas of uncertainty, which haunt both the protagonist and the viewer, lead to rather muddled plot development.
A boy suffering from a rare disease that prevents him from going outside without protective clothing, Eli feels deep insecurity as a result of his condition. When he is admitted to Dr. Isabella Horn’s medical facility in an isolated, old house, he begins to notice strange supernatural occurrences such as ghosts of previous patients and invisible beings that write ‘LIE’, an anagram of the protagonist’s name, on windows and furniture. On top of this, his medical treatments are horrifically painful, with the purpose and intended outcome of many of the procedures being vague and mysterious. After developing a friendship with Haley, a girl on the outside who he communicates with through a window, Eli begins to uncover the sinister truth behind his treatment and his condition itself, which are not what they initially seemed.
The sudden change in focus, from the paranormal to the religious ritual of testing Eli’s worth as a son of Satan, is overwhelming and difficult to comprehend.
Progressing from the initial classic horror sequences featuring paranormal beings and jump scares, the film becomes centred around the Satanic religion followed by the medical staff in the house and Eli’s mother. The audience is suddenly faced with ideas of religious sacrifice, the cleansing of the soul and the testing of faith. This drastically flips the central plot of the film, which serves both as an intriguing ending to the chilling horror story and also a baffling confusion to what at first appeared as a film primarily about ghosts and haunting.
Overall, Eli is interesting because of its subversion of classic horror features and its shocking plot twist. However, for many viewers, the sudden change in focus, from the paranormal to the religious ritual of testing Eli’s worth as a son of Satan, is overwhelming and difficult to comprehend. Had it maintained its original focus, or even subtly foreshadowed the plot twist from the beginning of the film, the ending may have been less confusing and more engaging for the audience. As it is, Eli leaves the viewer with feelings of confusion and partial disappointment due to the unexpected, and unconvincing, way in which the plot unravels.