There’s one notably gross scene in Eloise, in which the filmmakers decide to go for the figurative jugular, perhaps sensing the viewer’s mounting indifference to their efforts up to this point. The film’s heroine, Pia (Eliza Dushku), is cornered by the spirits haunting the titular mental hospital and forced to confront her fear of needles. The ghosts restrain Pia and commence in stabbing her veins over and over again with syringes, which director Robert Legato frames in gleeful close-ups that are accompanied by tastelessly accentuated sounds of gouging and stabbing. The syringes grow larger as the torture session progresses, and the scene collapses into desperate, literal-minded ludicrousness, inspiring one to long for the comparative inventiveness of an even mediocre entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street series.
The rest of Eloise is lifelessly composed of the usual tropes of horror films set in mental asylums, encouraging one to wonder if the officials of Wayne, Michigan, who’re thanked in the end credits for their cooperation, might’ve been better advised to hold out for a project that actually utilizes the legacy of one of the most famous “haunted” places in the United States. The real Eloise was a distinctly vast and nearly self-sufficient institution that bridged together a poor house, a psychiatric hospital, and a tubercular sanitarium, among other facilities, but the Eloise of this film is just another jumble of visual clichés. Hallways are dark, cavernous, and impersonally foreboding, occasionally lit with strobe lights to suggest the mounting disorientation of the characters. The film is rife with bluntly quick cuts to ghosts, recalling the similarly crass, though considerably more accomplished over-direction of Dark Castle’s various remakes of William Castle’s films.
Eloise has virtually no plot, but that doesn’t prevent Legato and screenwriter Christopher Borrelli from spending over a third of the film’s running time setting it up anyway. The inciting incident of the narrative is endearingly old-fashioned, following a dully stolid hunk, Jacob (Chace Crawford), as he recruits a gang to spend a night in Eloise for the sake of an unexpected familial inheritance. After several interminable scenes explaining to us who each of the characters are to one another, and how they relate to Eloise (spoiler alert: it doesn’t matter), Legato follows them as they wander obvious sets, until we get twitchy for someone to be picked off so that something, anything, actually happens. Considering the real-life location that Eloise is exploiting, and the very real legacy of institutional abuse that dogs this country, the film is remarkably devoid of accidental subtext or incidental interest.