After teasing us with a tentative release back in January 2019, audiences were finally able to see this brilliant and effective horror film. Initially Paramount Players was unsure of how to market it, before selling the distribution rights to Netflix. And after watching Eli, it’s clear why that was. It’s not easy for a film to pull off a total 180, but this one somehow manages to do it.
Spoilers Ahead – You’ve Been Warned!!!
A Ghostly Warning
The film begins with desperate parents, Rose (Kelly Reilly) and Paul (Max Martini) as they struggle to do what’s best for their son Eli (Charlie Shotwell). His chronic condition forces him to remain quarantined in a sterile environment at all times. Spending every last dollar they have, Eli’s parents seek out a specialist, Dr. Horn (Lili Taylor), whose experimental treatment may be the poor boy’s only hope.
Eli is somewhat in awe as they arrive at Dr. Horn’s facility, an archaic mansion redesigned to be sterile throughout most of the building. As his treatments commence however, Eli begins having terrifying visions of spirits throughout the house. He’s not sure whether they’re real or just hallucinations, as Dr. Horn insists are a mere side effect of treatment.
All the while, his sanity is kept via contact with a local girl Haley (Sadie Sink), who comes to the outside window for conversations with him. She tells him that there were others before him, but that she thinks something happened to them because she suddenly stopped seeing them. This fuels Eli’s paranoia that something isn’t quite right with Dr. Horn and he suspects she may be hiding something.
It’s All About the Ending
It’s in these last 15 minutes that Eli makes a complete tonal and story shift and the film itself is truly defined. The whole time Rose was under the impression that Dr. Horn could actually “cure” Eli, but after discovering the corpses of the previous children, she realizes that death itself is the cure.
The final procedure is not a medical one at all, rather it is a religious ceremony in which Dr. Horn attempts to kill Eli with a holy dagger, while reciting prayers, much like an exorcism. In this moment, all is revealed that Eli was never afflicted with an immune system disorder. All along, he was reacting negatively to what turned out to be holy water because he is in fact a son of Satan.
Discovering his powers, he uses both telekinesis and pyro-kinesis, he kills everyone except for Rose, who revealed the truth to him and appears to be willing to help him. He sets the building itself on fire, and mother and son escape to find Haley outside waiting. She reveals that she is a child of Satan as well and that they are half brother/sister. The film ends with them driving away to bring Eli to his true father for this long overdue meeting.
Going Full Omen
It’s very difficult for a massive twist like this to work, and the only way it can is if the rest of the film “adds up”, so to speak. And Eli does this fairly well, with one major exception. All along, we obviously know that there’s more going on than Dr. Horn is letting on. We also get the strong sense that the ghosts in the house are actually trying to help and warn Eli.
The only point where this falls apart is throughout the film, we see Rose becoming suspicious of her husband and the doctor, but she’s sitting on this giant secret that should definitely clue her in that there’s more going on. Other than that, some may criticize why Satan himself doesn’t come to the aid of his own son, but as Haley explain, his children must prove themselves to be deemed worthy.
We’re still not 100% sure if Eli himself is the Antichrist, as it seems that Satan has multiple children. But he certainly proves himself worthy by embracing his heritage and utilizing his powers to kill those who sought to harm him.
There’s also the rather disturbing implication that Rose accepts her son cannot be “saved” and decides to stick by him. She felt that being a loving mother to a son of Satan was better than losing her son altogether. Which honestly makes her a great mother.
It’s the type of ending that certainly leaves us wanting more, but perhaps it would be best left to the imagination. What made this film work was its sense of isolation and simplicity. Much like Eli himself, we the audience realized that he was part of something larger, but to show that larger scale in a sequel would drastically change the feel (as well as the budget). Perhaps it’s better to leave this disturbing ending alone.