2017 | unrated (R equivalent) | starring Adam Scott, Evangeline Lilly, Owen Atlas | directed by Eli Craig | 1hr 35mins |
2017 Halloween Horrorfest #3
Studio Pitch: A parody of killer kid movies… mostly just The Omen.
To set how low my expectations were here, Little Evil is actually much better than I expected. I was expecting a big, broad, dumb scene-specific Wayans Brother style parody movie here. It’s more of a solid idea that falls apart in a witless execution. We have to journey up past several layers comedy crap styles to get to it. We go past the scene specific parodies, past the Adam Sandler cash-ins, past the Will Farrell/SNL movies studio assembled movies to get to Little Evil. It still doesn’t work, but it isn’t rotten from the jump and even occasionally shows a glimmer that it will launch into something fun.
It’s an Imagine If movie. Imagine if you met Evangeline Lilly, married her and had to deal with the new dynamics of a blended family, except in this case her son is …(record scratch) the antichrist. It’s a potentially rich take on the premise, taking a real, character rich life struggle and mixing it with a supernatural element to take real anxiety to it’s most extreme. Thankfully, writer/director Eli Craig (of the ok Tucker and Dale vs Evil) seems to have at least a superficial working knowledge of killer kid movies, swerving his character’s struggle with stepdad life into creepy cornfields, backward talking priests, natural disasters, impalement deaths and milking the mileage out of creepy Lucas (Owen Atlas) rocking alone on a squeaky swing set. I feel like Adam Scott has played this role before so he fits right into the role of paranoid stepfather who tries to convince his new wife that the numerous deaths and supernatural events that surround her son are well beyond coincidence.
So there is a really clever and really fun movie nugget in here somewhere. Actually, its very much in the mold of the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg, Cornetto Trilogy movies (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End) where character struggles at different stages in life are cleverly interwoven with horror/sci-fi genre tropes. Craig even seems to know this, replicating Wright’s trademark 3-quick-cut scene transitions every chance he gets and deliberately inviting a comparison with far, far better work. Needless to say, it’s not flattering. Now I’m watching Little Evil and imagining it with Wright’s visual imagination, Simon Pegg as the stepfather – playing the role with more desperation and mania, Nick Frost in a wig as his transexual best friend who helps him on the case and Martin Freeman in the Tyler Labine Expositional Role as the wedding videographer who has done all the antichrist research. It would even be set in London where The Omen was. What a movie that would have been!
It would have been clever and funny and thrilling in every way this isn’t. There is one brief scene here where Lucus attacks Scott’s character inside a bathroom played straight, that looks and feels like an authentic homage to this type of horror movie. If the rest of the film where like this moment we would really have something. Also, in an odd cameo, Sally Field is in it as the CPS worker in a bumbled up mess of a scene where Lucus’ behavior calls their parenting into questions and Scott is unable to go along with the ruse that everything is fine. Another nice idea the movie doesn’t have the imagination to follow through on.
What Wright would have done that Craig doesn’t is create escalating stakes. Instead of things getting more harried for Scott, the film takes it’s one joke and continues to hit that note. When we get to the third act, when Wright would have opened it up to a fresh new level, effectively executing the very horror genre he was riffing on, Little Evil does something unforgivably worse. It doesn’t just refuse to escalate the joke, it takes the joke back. Lucas’ demon kid changes radically from the first half of the movie where he spoke only through a goat puppet if at all, twisting the movie into a more easily digestible, far less interesting story of love and family. Unwilling to commit to the premise and without an exit strategy at all, Craig just smashes everything together in a finale, somehow perplexingly solves the problem with “love” and calls it a day.