Netflix show “Eli” delivers predictable plot twist

William Sikich

Director Ciarán Foy’s “Eli” came to Netflix on Oct. 18, 2019. It presents a standard buildup to a relatively unique — albeit well-telegraphed — twist, and the actors’ performances pass at least for the more forgiving viewer.

However, “Eli”’s overextended ending is not reward enough for the dull series of bump-in-the-closet scares that support its underwhelming first act.

Eli (Charlie Shotwell) lives within the confining hold of an extreme autoimmune disorder that prevents him from leaving his home.

When his parents bring him to stay in a facility — which I can only describe as a haunted house with an airlock — Eli develops a fearful distrust for the tight-lipped Dr. Horn (Lili Taylor), who has promised to cure him.

There’s no dramatic irony in our suspicion of Horn’s veracity insofar as Eli immediately intuits her intentions, though his parents have full faith in the woman who took their second mortgage in exchange for their son.

I grew tired of the plot pretty early on for this reason. The discredited kid is a common enough trope these days, and “Eli” derives a lot of its early tension from that concept, alone.

Much of what follows consists of nighttime scenes of Eli in his dormitory as the film accelerates into a state of surreal confusion.

Visions of ghostly children flit about the darkness of the mansion and scrawl grave messages on his window.

The ambiguity of Dr. Horn’s “medicine” calls Eli’s perception of these things into question, both for the audience and for himself.

This sequence of spliced encounters constructs a palpable mindset for Eli. His suspicion builds into fear, which builds into anger and finally into confrontation with Dr. Horn. Nonetheless, the similarity of each nighttime scene to its successor evokes too much tedium to justify the repetition.

It feels like the main purpose of the “scary” portion of the film is to serve as a red herring backdrop for the magic trick Foy tries to pull with his demonic twist ending.

From the start, Foy piles on the religious imagery and obvious foreshadowing; a billboard quotes the Bible, weakly disguised Crucifixes adorn the house’s many mechanical doors and the nurses’ outfits resemble nuns’ habits.

I noticed this theme within the first few minutes, which prepared me for the big reveal at the end. I won’t spoil it for our readers, but the devil is as much in this film as one might expect.

The interface between the parallel ghost and “evil doctor” plots does afford “Eli” some merit, as it complicates the guessing game that fuels its tension, but the predictability of the ending remains.

The doctor’s relation to the dead children doesn’t stray far enough from horror movie standards to come as a surprise, and enough religious symbolism peppers the first part of the film to tip us off to its nature before too long.

I won’t say I knew what Foy was doing from the beginning, but I saw it coming too soon for “Eli”’s drawn-out ending to feel appropriately weighted.

It goes on for some time and drops all subtlety at a break-neck, slap-in-the-face pace, leaving me looking for the credits while they’re still a good ten minutes out.