Eli Explained-Gene Therapy, Stranger Things And 5 Things You May Have Missed
The latest genre film to drop from Netflix wasn’t terrible, just a little messy.
There were some sincerely scary scenes with ghosts who may or may not be helping Eli, cute local redheads(Stranger Things Sadie Sink), and medical experimentation gone very wrong. The mystery aspect was compelling enough. What was wrong with Eli and why do the treatments seem to be making him worse not better? The atmosphere was decent enough if a bit heavy handed. There are locked doors in the house that are needlessly creepy and strange carved wood workings throughout, but there was also a nifty surgical suite straight out of a Halloween haunted attraction. It was a mixed bag of way too much and not half bad.
The first hour and fifteen minutes of the film were pure sinister doctor trope. Evil doctors doing God knows what in a remote old house turned medical facility to poor unsuspecting kids. It had all the elements of a pretty decent Bluebeard’s Castle movie. Then the other shoe dropped and a WTF am I watching twist ending took over.
The Story So Far
Eli(Charlie Shotwell) and his parents Kelly Reilly who does devoted but naive parent so well and Max Martini who’s in season two of The Purge on USA are traveling to an isolated medical center to try one last ditch effort to heal their son. He is suffering from an undisclosed auto-immune disease which renders him allergic to basically everything but baby wipes and grey sweatshirt material. After arriving at the oppressive old home turned hospital he begins having “treatments” that are unnecessarily harsh and scary. Those treatments also bring the nasty side effect of ghost stalking. One or more ghosts appear to him nightly, scarring the bejeesus out of the poor kid. These are the most effective parts of the film. A reflection gag is employed to show the lurching, contorting ghosts. It’s been done before many times, but it is used well and it successful here. Condensation on windows and mirrors is used to literally spell out the truth.
Lili Taylor is chilling in her complete disregard for Eli’s well being. She is supposedly some expert in his disease who has dedicated her life to treating kiddos like him and yet she is cold and performs her tasks in the most unpleasant way possible. She does nothing to calm him. In fact, she seems to barely be able to avoid inflicting serious pain and injury to him. It’s a little melodramatic to say the least.
In addition to the small staff, there is some townie action who arrives to share magic trick tips and break windows in a facility that supposedly is absolutely hermetically sealed for Eli’s safety. Clues are dropped everywhere that things are not what they seem. The problem is they are hidden behind a firewall of shaky plot points and menacing looks.
As the ghost attacks and treatments escalate our perspective skews and the big reveal arrives in a flurry of holy water, dead kids, chase scenes, and fire. Turns out Eli is only sick in the head with a massive case of the demons. His half brother and sister are the two ghosts who have been trying to scare him into action and the good doctor and her nurses are a sect of nuns intent on exorcising him through medicine somehow.
What you may have missed
1. Eli never was sick, he was convinced he was. The mind is an amazing thing. It can make us feel better and trick the body into thinking it is very, very sick. That is exactly what happened, only dear sweet Mom and Dad did the convincing. They knew he was a demon and in some bizarre plan to home school the devil out of him they made him a bubble boy until they could figure out something else. The cure for his wellness(insert evilness) was evil-gene therapy targeted at extracting his devil DNA, or something like that. The science is pretty shaky. In order to heal him he needed gene therapy, holy water IV, and when all else fails a good old fashioned exorcism/knife to the heart.
2. Dad knew all along that they probably wouldn’t have been able to save Eli. He makes a early comment to Mom about always being a faithful man. He slings it at her like an insult in a moment which should have been tender or consoling. They both appear to be doting parents. She is kind and engaged and he is protective. They have a good family dynamic. Dad was the one who admitted to making the arrangements and finding the doctor. He told her the facility had cured ALL of its patients. This is only true if cure means kill, which it doesn’t. He likely knew there was no way in Hell(pun intended) Eli would be coming home with them. Mom is allowed to live at the end because she was not in on the scam. She is his beard. She will allow him and his half sister to move throughout the world normally. Eli may also have fond feelings for the women who bore him even if he is a demon.
3. Sadie Sink from Stranger Things is Eli’s half sister and we should have guessed it. She more than shows her hand from almost the first interaction. She throws a pebble at Eli’s window and damn near breaks it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t possess the ability to hurl stones so hard they break enforced windows. Even if the house wasn’t actually fortified(I’m sure it wasn’t),she should not have been able to throw something that small and crack the window. It could have been compromised somehow before the stone or one of the many ghosts haunting Eli, but it probably was just his half sister flexing. She also performs a fire palm magic trick that easily could be explained away with props. We know by the end that she actually can create fire at will just like him. Handy demon super powers.
4. Eli’s name is a huge clue. There are many symbolically important components to it. First, the biblical story of Eli tells of a devout priest who had two wicked sons. They defiled the church with sex and consuming of sacrifices. Instead of stopping them he essentially looked the other way and let it continue. For this God decreed that he would be punished by having both of sons die on the same day. After a lifetime of service to the Lord Eli’s son’s died in battle. They carried the Ark of the Covenant with them into war mistakenly thing God would protect them through it. God was not with them and the Philistines killed them and captures the Ark. All of this is important because the thing Eli is most known for is blessing Hannah with the gift of a child. With what we know about Eli’s creation, the story parallels Hannah’s child.
5. Eli’s name keeps appearing as LIE. When written backwards it would be ILE but regardless with enough creative license you can get LIE. Director Ciran Foy was basically doing the equivalent of shouty capitals at us with this one. We get it, everything we are being told up to now is a massive lie. It isn’t just Eli who is being lied to but the viewer as well. Nothing is what it seems. More interesting is the view of his name later in the film which turns into the number 371. That is an angel number that means that your choices and decisions are not just correct, but you are being assisted with them. Eli is being assisted all right, just not from an angel in heaven.
As the Television Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.