For many horror fans, we anxiously await the arrival of movies on the big screen, especially those that come out during our most holy of months; October. In recent years, Netflix has been providing a steady stream of new horror for fans that include fresh new voices as well as some voices who we were eagerly awaiting to hear from.
The movie ELI, directed by Ciarán Foy, stepped onto the Netflix scene and delivered a fun ride that took the audience in a completely different direction. Ciarán Foy, who is known for his work on Citadel and Sinister 2, returned in 2019 to introduce us to a young boy named Eli, played by Charlie Shotwell, who has a peculiar ailment. Eli must live in a sterilized environment at all times or he will perish. A life without touch, play, friends, a sense of normality, Eli lives the life of a living ghost. As with all good ghost stories, we need a haunted house as well. Eli’s parents, Rose and Paul, played by Kelly Reilly (Eden Lake, Sherlock Holmes) and Max Martini (Pacific Rim, The Purge TV series), take Eli to Dr. Horn, played by Lili Taylor, for special treatments inside a large foreboding haunted manor. Dr. Horn is sterile and seldom shows any emotion. Through the course of Eli’s treatment, we start to see the malevolent side of the house slowly being brought to life. Children appearing in the corner of the eye, strange writings on the wall and glass, warnings from a local neighbor – and all the while you think you know where the story is headed… but you couldn’t be more wrong.
After watching the film, I was delighted to be able to speak with Ciarán Foy, as well as producer Trevor Macy, regarding the production of the film.
Ciarán, in your films such as Citadel and Sinister 2, you have these homes/places that are almost like another character themselves. How important is it to find the right location to shoot?
Ciarán Foy: It’s paramount that you find a location that matches the overall mood of the story and it’s something that can feel like a character themselves. One thing that was super important was the ambiguity of the nature of this institution. We looked at a lot of places and tried to find something that was befitting for a first impression. Is this a haunted house? Is this medical facility something religious? What exactly is the nature of this building? Finally, we based the house on a place that was in New Orleans which is an actual old jail. We couldn’t actually shoot there because it was in the middle of the street, but the effects guy took a lot of scans of this jail and based on those scans we created the house. It’s not really there but it’s based on something that’s real and visceral, so yeah, it was super important to find that.
It’s an amazing house that had a great House on Haunted Hill vibe to it. Working with kids is always such an interesting venture. How long did it take for you to cast your lead, Charlie Shotwell?
Ciarán Foy: It took a while to find him. It was actually a tape that a Casting Director sent me. It was a self-tape that Charlie had made for the role. He had managed to come in for the audition and straight away he had a vulnerable quality to him and an honesty. At the same time, there was something very intelligent and slightly calculating behind his eyes. I really liked that sort of dynamic. In the self-tape we didn’t get this sense of anger that builds as the movie progresses, so we did a couple of improvs and after that, I knew we had found our Eli.
Trevor Macy: You want to set a good example with the title character, especially if he’s a young title character. He was a total pro.
Charlie goes through some really intense scenes that look physically demanding. Did you have to do any long sessions dedicated to safety measures?
Trevor Macy: The magic of movies is what you’re seeing is self-generated. He’s an intense actor, even at his age, and he was really willing to convey that.
Ciarán Foy: Yeah, he wanted to do all his own stunts and we had to do that with a certain degree of safety.
When it came to casting for Dr. Horn, did you always have Lili Taylor in mind for the role?
Ciarán Foy: I think we always wanted Dr. Horn to be somebody iconic and we’ve been a fan of Lili’s forever. She has this weird, I like to call it a Mona Lisa performance, of being warm and gentle but at the same time being really cold. It’s a very nuanced performance and she was so great in the part and super fun to work with.
When did the film first start taking shape and how did the story come about?
Trevor Macy: It was a Black List script that David Chirchirillo conceived of and wrote a ways back. A couple of years ago Broad Green Pictures had it for a minute and they invited me on to produce because they needed someone who had done a few scary movies. I loved the script and almost immediately Ciarán raised his hand and said he would like to meet. We saw very quickly that he was our guy.
Ciarán Foy: Yeah, I kind of went through it in one sitting. I read a lot of horror, to the point where I can guess things that will happen, and this twist really caught me off guard. Looking back on it, it progressed in a way that was organically laid out which was really cool, that doesn’t happen that often.
Did you have any unforeseen hitches or difficulties that came up while filming?
Ciarán Foy: Apart from the usual things that happen with any form of movie-making, it was always going to be a challenge in terms of the schedule because Charlie was in every scene except two. You are kind of dealing with a tighter schedule because of the hours that children can work. However, Charlie was just on it every day and we didn’t have to spend a lot of time getting back to a place, emotionally, for Eli. Every take he was just there and that helped a lot. It was challenging, but it was also a lot of fun.
ELI is now available to stream on Netflix and you can read our review here.