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Eloise (Movie Review)

Eloise (Movie Review)
02.02.2017by: Jake Dee
5 10

PLOT: In order to cash in on his dead aunt’s inheritance money, Jacob Martin (Chace Crawford) enlists the help of three others to break into the abandoned Eloise mental asylum and find the woman’s official death certificate.

REVIEW: Serving 25 years as a trustily rehired VFX specialist for some of the most venerated cinematic titans around – Cameron, Howard, Scorsese, Zemeckis, etc. – not to mention helming a few Star Trek episodes back in the 90s, jack of all trades Robert Legato finally makes his feature film debut via ELOISE – a handsome and at times anxiously atmospheric but mostly lost and languorous exercise in the haunted insane asylum subgenre. Shot on location in the real-life, now-defunct ELOISE mental institution outside of Detroit, Michigan – Legato does his best to capitalize on the inherent eeriness of its authentic, history-laden locale. Alas, after a decently springboarded back-story to get us going, ELOISE tumbles headlong into all of the rusty genre movie trappings and platitudinous pitfalls that most poorly scripted and under-funded horror yarns often do. Scripted by Christopher Borrelli (THE VATICAN TAPES, WHISPER), when all is told, ELOISE is an unsold and uninspired slog that sub-generically, despite flashing a bit of style, never does enough to separate itself from the chaff.

The picture opens with Jacob Martin (Crawford) learning his father just died. He heads back to Detroit to learn worse, that his father willfully decided to skirt age and illness by taking his own life. Not remotely bereaved, Chace takes his pinched scowl and trademark eyebrows to an insurance office, where he’s made aware of an aunt named Genevieve (Nicole Forester) who was interred at the infamous Eloise insane asylum decades prior. Long since deceased, Jacob is told that if he can dig up an official death certificate from one of the still erect but now dilapidated asylum buildings, he could rightfully collect the $1.2 million aunt Eloise bequeathed to him. He agrees to do so, but not before enlisting some help. An old pal named Dale (Brandon T. Jackson) is brought into the mix, needing a chunk of change to clear a $20,000 debt. The two solicit the services of Scott (P.J. Byrne), a geeky local Eloise expert who knows every intricate detail about the hospital – a sprawling 78-buliding complex - with blueprints and schematics. Scott’s hot bartender sister Pia (Eliza Dushku), whom Jacob flirted with in a bar prior, only agrees to partake in the death certificate hunt to make sure nothing happens to her little brother.

Oh but things happen. To Scott and the lot. Problem is, it’s nothing you can’t guess and/or haven’t seen before ad nauseam in a movie like this. Turns out Scott and Pia’s mother worked for many years as a nurse in Eloise. And just as Jacob does with his aunt Genevieve, Scott and Pia begin to see the ghostly manifestations of their dead mother while inside the strobe-lit, quasi-purgatorial hospital. Stylistically, we’re given a skein of flashbacks usually marked by a stretch of black and white or sepia film stock, often featuring the lecherous likes of Dr. H.H. Greiss (Robert Patrick), a psychotic doc conducting crazy experiments involving snakes, spiders, orbital lobotomy, etc. But how and why the foursome suddenly coexist inside this ethereal plane, commingling directly with the apparitions from decades past, is never credibly conveyed, nor ever very scary when doing so. This jumbled visual whirlwind between two realms is further muddied when Dale accidentally applies liquid LSD to one of his hand-wounds. And then there’s the homeless mute squatter who continues to randomly appear with a shocked expression on his face, a recurrence that borders more on parody than genuine unease.

A wasted opportunity really, as the actual ELOISE location is one rife with cinematic production value. It has a lived-in authenticity and intrinsic creepiness inside its walls, a long history of real-life horror that can’t help but translate onscreen. And with his adept VFX background, Legato employs a lot of dazzle in filming the hospital. Strobe-lit flickers and shadowy corridors are filmed in a way that certainly adds a modicum of macabre ambience. The problem is the script. The story is never cogent or compelling enough to cash in on the craziness of ELOISE itself, what should be more of a towering title character. As for the other characters and the acting, Eliza Dushku isn’t quite the plucky ingénue she once was, but what she lacks in nubile spunk she sort of makes up for in onscreen experience. She, like the rest, does an adequate job of selling the ultimately un-buyable material, at least until the story becomes way too jumbled to really make a difference.

So aside from a decently premised setup, a mildly spooky real-life location and some well rendered atmospherics along the way - unless you happen to be a connoisseur of exploring actual historical mental asylums - ELOISE hasn’t a whole lot to offer. There’s a stylistic flare and flash you’d expect from VFX expert Robert Legato, but, while a bit better than most on this front, not even the cool visual design of the film can really set itself from the ungodly swath of movies about haunted mental institutions. The more damning issue though is the story and what a gnawingly nonsensical nuisance trying to follow it becomes toward the end. Seriously, if you want to see a f*cked up mental asylum movie featuring a gnarly metal pipette orbital lobotomy, do wise and revisit SESSION 9 instead.

Extra Tidbit: ELOISE enters select theaters Friday, February 3rd.
Source: AITH

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