WRITER: David Chirchirillo
SCRIPT BIO: Finished top of the 2015 blood-list, a compilation of the years best un-produced horror screenplays. Also garnered 21 votes on the 2015 Black List.
I went into this script with high hopes. I love horror. It's got to be one of my favourite genres. Why? Because it has the ability (when done well) to illicit emotions and feelings in me that I very rarely encounter in day to day life. I've never been so scared as when I first watched THE RING.
Horror films of late have not really delivered for me. The last best horror was - of course - IT FOLLOWS - and Babdook deserves a mention here also. Other than these two gems, the world of horror has been devoid of quality, I was hoping that ELI would fill that void, alas it was a swing and a miss.
There were a few good set pieces that I can imagine in the hands of a talented director could play quite well, but for the whole, Eli failed to deliver.
Let's look at why...
11 year old Eli has an auto-commune disorder that means he lives his life in a bubble. Literally. He lives in a small plastic tent. When he wants to stretch his legs he has a hazmat suit specially designed for his condition.
Life for poor old Eli is not as great as it could be. This is why we join the story on the morning that his parents take Eli to a mansion sized 'clean house' for Elli to be treated by a one DR HORN. Their hope is that Dr Horn can find a cure for Eli's illness.
But when Eli gets into this clean house, the ghosts of previous patients start to haunt him, or perhaps they're warning him that not everything is as it first appears.
Will Eli discover 'the truth' in time to save himself from the fate of those that suffered here before him?
Okay, so just before I get into the break down of the elements of this story I just want to talk briefly about EMPATHY and how important it is to your story.
EMPATHY is what connects your audience to your characters. If we don't CARE for your character, we aren't going to want to go on their journey with them.
It's imperative you create empathy for your hero early on.
There's two kinds of empathy. PASSIVE and ACTIVE.
ACTIVE empathy is where we like a character because they do something that makes us like them. They see someone being bullied, they go and intervene, stop the bullying. We like that.
PASSIVE empathy is when bad things happen to the character. We feel sorry for them. This is still a form of empathy, but it's not as strong as ACTIVE empathy. So in the passive version of the above example - our hero would be the one being bullied. We feel sorry for them. But think about it, we'd like them more if they stood up to the bully. Why? We like active strong characters.
So getting back to Eli, my first problem with the script is its ONLY element of empathy is Eli's illness. The ONLY reason we're supposed to care for this kid is because he's ill.
That's not enough to fully engage your audience. I can think of countless ways they could have developed ACTIVE empathy in Eli, alas there's not an ounce of active empathy in the whole script.
With that in mind, let's break this sucker down...
ELI has a relatively strong concept, being the main reason this script has so much buzz. Horror films with a child as the lead always do well. There's something about the innocence of youth that plays really well with horror.
It's also a relatively fresh angle of the haunted house trope. I've not seen a boy in a bubble horror film before. When you mention a boy in a bubble in a haunted medical facility, you can easily imagine that.
The concept it clear. You can easily imagine the poster for the film, the trailer.
Producers love this.
For this reason I give Eli...
CONEPT RATING 8/10
CONCEPT TIP: Your idea needs to be clean and clear. If you find yourself having trouble putting your idea into one very short sentence, such as 'boy in a bubble in a haunted house' - you need to rework your idea. The easier it is for people to grasp your concept the better your chance of selling your script and having the film made.
Eli's form is okay. It's functional. The descriptions are kept to mostly 4 lines or less, the page count is 99 - perfect page number for a horror. Just before reading Eli I opened up another script that had three or four pages of descriptions in blocks of 4 lines. That's four lines, then 4 lines, then 4 lines, for several pages. I then looked at the page count 137 pages. I then closed the script. The writer clearly doesn't understand writing for the screen yet.
Eli used a lot of underlining in the descriptions, but it was used well. It only underlined the important stuff, which made speed reading this much easier.
All that said for Eli, there's was no zip or zing to the writing. The writer has a functional use of language, the words don't spring off the page and there's very little wit here.
FORM RATING: 6/10
FORM TIP: Learn the screen writing formatting rules. For the above mentioned reason. If a reader opens a screenplay and sees that on the first page the writer has broken three of the most important screen formatting rules, if they do continue to read your script, they'll be looking for more and more reasons to slush-pile your script.
Form is the ONE area of screen writing that ANYONE can learn. Take the time, it WILL improve your odds of a favourable read.
I recommend HOW NOT TO WRITE A SCREENPLAY by Denny Martin Finn.
Get it. Read it. Use it.
Eli has a relatively okay structure. Without getting into a full Hero's Journey break down, it feels like it has a clear ordinary world. A clear transition into the special world.
Then when in the special world, being that of the 'clean house', the story moves along at an okay pace.
With that said, I'm not quite sure what Eli's flaw is? He has an illness, but that's an external flaw. It could be said that his fear of germs and the outside world is his flaw, but not really, as that's a rational fear. If he goes outside or encounters germs he'll die.
I bring up the flaw in structure as they're tied together. Without a clear flaw for your hero, it's harder to build a proper structure around them.
I can't honestly at the moment think of what it is internally that's holding Eli back from achieving what he needs to achieve. Post in the comments if you think you can figure that out?
STRUCTURE RATING: 6/10
STRUCTURE TIP: Without a clear flaw for your hero your story will lack structure. Flaw and structure are intertwined. Create a clear flaw for your hero and you'll know where to place your story structure beats.
Another area of the screenplay that is severely lacking. The characters here feel as two dimensional as a Scooby-Doo villain. Everything that's going on here is surface level. We don't delve into who the parents really are, how they're affected by being parents to a child with such a debilitating illness.
We don't even really devolve into WHO Eli is. We mainly stay focused on the events in the house.
This story really could have been elevated if the characters had been developed more.
CHARACTER RATING 5/10
CHARACTER TIP: Often writers will understand their HERO quite well. But a true test of screen writing is how well do you understand your supporting players. You must understand every character before you start to write.
This feeds back into characters. The better you understand and the better you have developed your characters the better their dialogue will be. Why? Because when you have an intimate understanding of your characters you will know not only how they speak, but you will know WHY they make the decisions they do, and this in turn will feed back into what they say.
The dialogue in Eli is functional at best. Eli's father actually 'pops' the most. The mother sounds like tofu talking as does Dr Horn.
DIALOGUE RATING: 4/10
DIALOGUE TIP: Your descriptions of locations don't end up on the screen. Functional description writing is fine in a screenplay. Functional dialogue is not. Why? Because your dialogue, those words you write, will be spoken by an actor. If the words don't pop on the page, no matter how talented that actor, the dialogue will play dry and dull.
Work on dialogue as much as you can. Be sure to make each character sound different from the others, and understand them so completely you know WHY they speak the way they do.
For a horror film, Eli actually has an okay voice. There was a darkness to the writing, a chill factor.
Aside from the mildly chilled chill factor, though, the writing is at best functional, and the 'voice' of the writer doesn't really shine through as anything exceptional.
Sometimes you read a writer where their voice alone carries you through the story.
That did not happen here.
VOICE RATING: 5/10
VOIE TIP: Write in the voice appropriate to your genre. Writing comedy? Your voice better have a comedic edge and wit. Writing horror? Your voice better have that chill factor. Hopefully even more than Eli had.
Another huge tick in the Eli box. This would be an easy 5 million dollar film. I can see the mega-producer Jason Blume knocking this film out of the park on a 5 mill budget easy.
Limited location. Main cast of 4. No brainer.
While Eli didn't pop for me, I can see why a savvy producer would snap this up. The concept is high, and easy to grasp. The production requirements are minimal, meaning a cheap shoot. The profit margin on a film like makes it an easy sell.
The problem is, this could have been really something great. If the writer has developed the characters more. If they'd put more time and effort into developing the dialogue, and if they'd worked on the twist ending - which - for me, feels tagged on for the sake of having twist ending, then this really could have been a great horror film to look out for.
OVERALL RATING 6/10