Little Evil Review (Film, 2017)
Content warning: Little Evil features a scene about suicide in reference to another horror film.
Little Evil is a horror-comedy film about the evil child horror genre. Yes, the film is an evil child film, specifically an Antichrist film. At its core, it’s a tribute to the absurdity of the genre. Done right, it’s terrifying; done wrong, it’s ridiculous; done like this, it’s a risk.
Adam Scott plays Gary, the new stepfather to a special young boy named Lucas. His wife Samantha (played by Evangeline Lilly) is extremely protective of the child, convinced the world just won’t give her darling son a chance. Meanwhile, everyone else who meets him realizes he is evil incarnate and/or doesn’t get to walk away because they die.
All the classic evil child scares are here. From the aftermath of the window scene in The Omen to a sight gag pulled from the Shining suggesting Lucas isn’t the only evil child around, Little Evil is a horror film that serves as a one stop encyclopedia for all the hallmarks of the genre. Writer/director Eli Craig clearly knows these films inside and out and manages to craft a film balanced between horror and satire.
The horror shots have all the right beats to be terrifying. In one scene, Gary visits the wedding videographer to do a play by play of what’s described as a disastrous ceremony. This is the “look at the evidence and see the truth” scene designed to stress out the horror film parent and make them question their loyalty to their own child. It’s also a slapstick sequence with tornadoes lifting people in rented tuxedos up to the sky and an argument over whether a priest spoke in tongues due to possession or in Latin because it was romantic.
This is the challenge of the film. When Little Evil works, it’s very good. There’s a great scene early on where Gary has to meet with Lucas’ principal (and a school therapist) to discuss that The Omen incident at the school. It should be a pure horror scene of disbelief and tension, but it’s played for laughs as the school therapist is only interested in evaluating Gary and his relationship with his father. When it doesn’t work, it’s a tenuous grasp for jokes in every scene whether warranted or not. Basically, any time the film turns away from horror in its comedy, it’s not as effective.
Adam Scott is the perfect dry skeptic type to balance out the screenplay. There’s never any doubt for the audience that Lucas is evil. Scott’s Gary is trying to do his best to bond with his stepson and make his new marriage work, and part of that means trying like hell to prove his son isn’t evil. It’s an effortless performance that stops the horror comedy from getting too silly.
Evangeline Lilly hits all the beats of the sincere parent of an evil child just trying to make everything work. She’s more self-aware than the average horror parent, but tries everything to make life best for her child. It’s a credit to Lilly that her Samantha has as strong a character arc as she does, as its the context of the behavior and slight nuance that makes Samantha evolve as a character.
Bridget Everett, as his coworker and fellow stepfather Al, rounds out the principal cast. Everett is hilarious as the brash best friend trying to relate to Scott’s trouble. Her Al tries everything he can to help Scott out before going full-in on Lucas being the Antichrist, never abandoning Scott when he needs help. Everett gets the funniest lines and best character arc and doesn’t miss a beat.
Little Evil is a very particular kind of horror comedy. It’s not quite as silly as Tucker & Dale vs. Evil and not quite as scary as Cabin in the Woods, but it’s the same style of horror self-examination. The tone is very specific in creating horror from a skeptic’s perspective when the audience knows the truth the whole time.
Little Evil is currently streaming on Netflix.
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