Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Eloise: Crazy in Michigan

It was yet another large employer in the Detroit-area that closed in the late 1970s. Technically, a few administrative support jobs remain to this day, but most of the 78 buildings are vacant or demolished. Yet, unlike the factories forced out of business, not so many locals mourned the passing of the Eloise Mental Hospital. Of course, the bad vibes generated by all that shock treatment of whatever will not simply evaporate. It still lingers, waiting to ensnare a group foolish enough to venture into the spooky abandoned section in Robert Legato’s Eloise (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Jacob Martin is rather surprised to hear he potentially stands to inherit his estranged father’s fortune and even more confused to learn the only complication is the Aunt Genevieve he never knew he had. Presumably, she died while committed to Eloise, but the remaining skeleton staff is in no hurry to retrieve her file from “the annex.” Being proactive but misguided, Martin’s childhood pal suggests they break in and find it themselves, with the help of Eloise internet historian Scott Carter.

It turns out, Carter is the special needs brother of tough-talking doe-eyed bartender Pia Carter. As one would hope and expect, she is against the misadventure, but the dudes already have him fired up, so she figures it will be easier for her to just go with it. Of course, that turns out to be a profoundly bad call. The Carter brother holds up his end, leading the group to the annex rather directly, but nobody is prepared to deal with the ghosts of Eloise past, particularly the sadistic director, Dr. H.H. Greiss. That old cat just doesn’t know when to give up the ghost.

Screenwriter Christopher Borrelli arguably takes the road less traveled in the third act, opting for a Twilight Zone sort of complication rather than a standard issue gore fest. In fact, the big twist is pretty clever, yet it is sufficiently supported by the groundwork already laid.

Frankly, Eliza Dushku doesn’t seem to be trying very hard as sister Pia (a name that is probably considered bad karma in Hollywood). Conversely, Chace Crawford is a better-than-average stubbly-faced horror movie protag. P.J. Byrne goes all-in as the slightly problematic brother Scott, which is both good and bad. However, it is always fun to watch Robert “Terminator Cop” Patrick glower and do his thing as Dr. Greiss.

Admittedly, Eloise will not transcend its genre and become a crossover breakout hit, but it is considerably more ambitious than it needed to be and features a cast that should hold considerable appeal to fans. When judiciously considered, the verdict comes back: pretty good. Recommended for horror movie regulars, Elois opens this Friday (2/3) in New York, at the Cinema Village.