A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Eli is a horror movie in which a young boy named Eli (Charlie Shotwell) undergoes a last-ditch effort to be cured of a rare autoimmune disorder, only to discover a shocking truth. Expect plenty of horror movie violence, as well as gore, blood, demonic imagery, and lots of jump scares. Characters' heads blow up, and characters are set on fire. A character discovers the rotting corpses of children. There are graphic depictions of surgery, including a drill to the skull and a scalpel to skin. Eli has what appears to be a life-threatening allergy attack in which he screams, cries, and gasps for air while his skin turns red. Bullying is seen: A gang of young adults drinking beer by a trailer make fun of Eli for wearing a hazmat suit in public. There's occasional profanity, including "f--k" and "s--t," and the middle-finger gesture is used.
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What's the story?
ELI (Charlie Shotwell) is a boy suffering from a rare autoimmune disorder. He must wear a hazmat suit when outside, and lives sealed off behind plastic when indoors to avoid being contaminated by the pollutants and allergens of the outside world. Desperate to find a cure for Eli, his parents rest their final and desperate hopes in Dr. Horn (Lili Taylor), who treats cases such as Eli's in an old and remote mansion. Immediately upon arriving, Eli has nightmares and hallucinations that suggest that things in this treatment center aren't all that they seem. At night, a tween girl neighbor named Haley (Sadie Sink) visits him outside his window, and confirms Eli's suspicions that things aren't right inside this house. As he undergoes his first and second treatments, Eli's nightmarish visions only worsen, and when he discovers what he thinks happened to other kids with similar illnesses, Eli tries to escape while begging his parents to leave. But Eli's parents have secrets of their own, and as Eli tries to convince them of Dr. Horn's sinister actions, the actual truth is far more terrifying.
Is it any good?
To even reference any of the classic horror movie storylines this film draws upon would give the game away. Let's just say that what appears to be a rather basic haunted-house horror movie paired with what seems to be a mad doctor engaging in gruesomely unethical surgeries shifts in some shocking directions. The story's twists and turns result in a satisfying horror movie in which it seems all the adults are hiding something (and they are). Viewers' enjoyment of this movie is inevitably dependent on how they feel about getting their sympathies and their sense of the "good guys" and "bad guys" contorting into an unexpected direction.
Eli has a satisfying ending because, unlike so many other movies with twist endings, it's easy to see how the clues were there all along. In other words, the ending isn't a cheap gimmick. While definitely not in the same league as the classic horror movies that clearly influenced Eli, it's still a fun movie that starts to feel as much like a game as anything else. Much of what works in the movie is attributable to Charlie Shotwell's performance as Eli, whose pained howls, asthmatic wheezing, and awkward tween interactions with the opposite sex play on our sympathies throughout most of the movie. It's a horror movie not easily forgotten, and one that rewards repeated viewings.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about horror movies. How does Eli compare to other horror movies that focus on haunted houses, demonic possession, the occult?
How does the blood and gore compare to that in other horror movies? Why do you think some people find entertainment value in blood and gore?
What are some other examples of movies with unexpected twists and turns and surprise endings?
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