2.5 out of 5 Skulls
Starring: Chase Crawford, Eliza Dushku, Brandon T. Jackson, P.J. Byrne
Written By: Christopher Borrelli
Directed By: Robert Legato
Bechdel Test: Fail
When choosing asylum films to review, we had some trouble finding what we were looking for which were films with at least one prominent female role and with the asylum almost being a character in the film. We really wanted to focus on films that explored the very real horrors that existed in the age of experimental asylums and the cruel, entrapping nature they hold for their captives. One unfortunate thing we came across was what seemed like some of the strongest examples essentially didn’t have any female characters at all. Eloise was one of a handful that had at least a prominent female character in it that truly focused on the asylum itself as its subject matter. While the film takes place in modern day primarily in an abandoned asylum, the horrors of its past are exposed and begin to bleed in to these unfortunate characters’ realities, making it seem fitting for the type of asylum themes we wanted to explore. Unfortunately, Eloise really only scratches the surface of the grim nature of asylums and all in all it feels somewhat forced and like it’s lacking any real substance or insight on the subject.
I actually expected the film to be a lot worse than it was, I really can’t call it a bad or good film. It falls in that weird middle range. There is a lot they could have developed far better with the asylum, but honestly I think the bigger problem was it just didn’t get me to care enough even before they got there. I was somewhat curious where things would go, but the characters just didn’t feel that genuine or relatable to me and in many ways were clichéd. Their motivations made sense but were clearly a means to push the story in motion rather than feeling true to the characters. They just didn’t truly seem like real people.
The film as a whole carried that feeling, while interesting at moments and centering around a chilling, gritty setting full of real life tragic history, it unquestionably had a generic feel to it. I did think that the doctor’s insight along with his ruthless personality as he forced his patients to face their own fears “head on” to then conquer this sickness, was intriguing and horrifying. One issue I had with this though was that it didn’t feel as much like an asylum film, it felt more like it was centering on a fear clinic of sorts, even if the warped, cruel form of treatment was in a similar vein that you would see among asylum material. I can let that go to an extent, as you could justify it if this was how he viewed the cause of all mental illness, labeling fear as the culprit and reason for it all and the ability to conquer that being the key to keeping the sickness at bay. Still, I feel like even that is more interesting as an assumption based thought than what we were given in the film. It simply wasn’t explored deeply enough and we didn’t really get enough of the doctor’s perspective for it to power the film.
I walked away from this film feeling very indifferent. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it. I just couldn’t get invested in any of the characters. I did, however, like the concept of the film. It’s about an asylum that is sort of trapped in time, where modern day overlaps history and you can get drawn back into history before you realize what’s happening. The fact that history can come back and grab you is in itself very unsettling, but even more so in an experimental asylum.
I agree that the characters were clichéd, so much so that it was even a bit offensive at times. The only black character in the film, Dell (Brandon T. Jackson) is basically portrayed as a thief/criminal and is only out for himself which is just a terrible stereotype that they didn’t need to follow. It didn’t add much to the story so it could easily have been tweaked. The other character that really bothered me was Scotty (P.J. Byrne), he obviously has some mental issues, but, as far as I could tell, he didn’t have anything specific, he was just really generic. He was unrelatable and unrealistic, I think he could have been toned down a lot and it would have been less abrasive and more relatable. I didn’t have as big of a big problem with Chase (Jacob Martin) or Pia (Eliza Dushku), they just weren’t compelling enough to draw me in and make me care.
I agree that at times, it did feel more like a “fear clinic” but to me, that really just seemed like one aspect of the bigger asylum. The doctor who was the antagonist of the story was obsessed with curing fears by making patients face them head-on, so they showed a lot of that, but you get the sense that it’s just one aspect of the larger asylum. I think it could have been more compelling if they developed the doctor’s character more. Instead, all we get is scenes of this doctor forcing patients to face their fears but we’re never given a hint of motivation. I think his character could have been a lot more compelling and scarier if we were shown his motivations or even the steps he took to put the patients in those situations. In a sense, it felt like a slasher film would feel if they just showed you the murders and little to none of the stalking or victims running/fighting back.
The character, Pia, who was the only female lead was in about 2/3 of the movie but didn’t add very much to the story until the end. But, toward the end of the movie, she made a lot of strong, smart choices that ultimately saved her life. Even though she wasn’t a key player most of the time, she was a confident, smart person from the moment you’re introduced to her, and I did find it refreshing that she wasn’t sexualized. Along with every other character in this film, I wish hers was developed more, but, at least what we got was a good start toward a strong woman.
I agree that the film overall had a strong concept and the “time warp” aspect in theory was extremely powerful. At its core pulling our modern characters back in to the horrors of the past is a haunting reminder that history has a way of repeating itself and that evils of the past don’t necessarily stay dead and buried. They can resurface and bring upon a new reign of destruction. I expected this to manifest through ghosts; victims and implementers of the asylum’s past suffering, but through playing with time, it actually was a lot stronger and more inescapable. It also adds to one of the most terrifying aspects of asylum centered films; there really is no escape, no end to this suffocating torment. There is a degree of these themes present in the film that did draw me in, but they really don’t go deep enough. It is disappointing that this wasn’t a more intelligent film that realized the compelling potential that could have resonated deeply if it would have explored the power and message behind this all. If only it realized how much this was a conversation worth having.
I have to come back to these characters not seeming genuine enough to me, not getting me to care and really have this grim journey with them. Pia was actually the most seemingly real and relatable character here. Our main character, Jacob, was just painfully generic, which made me feel indifferent to him and his fate. I totally agree that our other two main characters, Scott and Dell, were just completely playing off stereotypes that didn’t add any depth and didn’t add to the story in any way. Really they detracted from it and distanced me further. Not only is Dell the one black character and is limited to being an in over his head thief, but he comes across as extremely greedy and selfish with no real redeeming qualities, really just wanting his friends’ inheritance money. Scott comes across more like they didn’t know how to treat a mentally ill character with understanding or realism, which is especially a shame for a film that centers around the horrific realities of experimental asylums and how mental illness really wasn’t understood then. Scott isn’t locked up and tormented like they were, but not even being able to give us a realistic character through him and almost seeming like they were making fun of mental illness, the film really seems like it doesn’t even understand its own subject matter and where the true horror lies.
Overall, I was more interested in the asylum than them, although I cared enough to not want anyone else to fall victim to the suffocating grip of this institution. If you look deeper at the characters though, Pia is strong and does make smart decisions that gives them a fighting chance. She is essentially in a hellish alternate reality, where she could get stuck and suffer for eternity for all she knows. She doesn’t let this impossible situation or her fear win, even when she is submerged directly into her greatest fear. Pia holds her own and from the beginning her role is of the protector and the provider for her family and I can certainly admire her for all of that. Really the only thing keeping her from really seeming like a strong character was the poor writing and fleshing out of her character, making her feel real, it almost blinds you from realizing that she is a strong character.
Eloise is a film that had strong potential, perhaps stronger and so close to grasping at something far more haunting, prevalent, and thought provoking than it realized. Its downfall is really in the writing and underdevelopment, particularly regarding the characters who perhaps with the exception of Pia, range from painfully generic to almost insultingly stereotypical, as if the writer didn’t care who these characters really were, keeping the audience from truly getting invested.
I agree, Eloise had a lot of potential, I just wish they fully realized that potential and dove deeper into some of the things that really make the thought of being stuck in an asylum frightening. There’s so much more they can do with that idea and like Kelsey said earlier, they “just scratched the surface.” If the story had been developed further or the characters were more relatable or compelling, I could have liked this film a whole lot more, but, as is, I’m just indifferent.