Director: Eli Craig
Starring: Evangeline Lilly, Adam Scott, Sally Field
Horror is one of the most polarising genres – some people are staunch horror fans, watching even the most bargain basement of offerings; others will write off any film with even a whisper of horror. Horror, when done well, reminds us of our greatest fears and has a mileage well beyond release. Be it demonically possessed children (‘The Exorcist’, 1973), quirky strangers in backwoods hotels (‘Psycho’, 1960), big-ass sharks (‘Jaws’, 1975), or the un-dead returning from the grave (‘Night of the Living Dead’, 1968), there is a flavour of horror to tap into every phobia.
‘Little Evil’, the latest Netflix Original release, taps into some very specific fears – those of a man finding his feet in the new role of ‘step-dad’ and those of any parent who worries their child may be the antichrist. Written and directed by Eli Craig, the writer and director of underrated redneck slasher spoof, ‘Tucker & Dale vs. Evil’ (2010), ‘Little Evil’ falls directly into the ‘horror-comedy’ sub-genre. It stars comedy favourite Adam Scott as Gary, a man who has just married his perfect woman following a whirlwind romance, Samantha (Evangeline Lilly). Not all is hunky-dory though, as Gary must now forge a relationship with his creepy step-son, Lucas (Owen Atlas).
‘Little Evil’ wears it’s influences proudly on it’s sleeve, directly spoofing classics such as ‘Poltergeist’ (1982), ‘The Shining’ (1980), and most notably, ‘The Omen’ (1976). Lucas wears the same instantly recognisable flat cap and little short suit that Damien wears in Richard Donner’s tale of an antichrist child. And ‘strange things’ keep happening in his presence (such as his teacher throwing herself out of a window, or his birthday clown setting himself on fire). And lets not even go there with the sock goat he uses to communicate in a growling voice to those around him.
In a film that is clearly more about the comedy than the horror, Adam Scott is predictably reliable. He plays the part of concerned step-parent well, exhasperated by his new wife’s apparent obliviousness to her son’s menace. He attends a step-dad support group in an attempt to burn his anxieties and doubts, instead only feeding them. The support group includes Donald Faison, Chris D’Elia and Kyle Bornheimer, who are mostly fine, if a little disappointing.
Bridget Everett is the true stand-out here as AL, Gary’s work friend and member of the step-dad support group. She is loyal, supportive, and truly funny to boot. The fact she is a lesbian is never made the butt of a joke, and she is often the voice of action. I’ve never seen Everett in anything prior to this, but looking at her IMDb, with roles in ‘Trainwreck’ (2015) and the recent ‘Patti Cake$‘ (2017), she is clearly and up-and-coming actress on the comedy circuit, and I, for one, am stoked about this.
The other stand-outs, though scarcely used, are Clancy Brown as the Reverend Gospel and Tyler Labine as videographer Karl. Brown is a prolific voice and genre actor, who relishes the role of cult leader, fervishly working to open the gates of Hell and bring about the end of the world. Labine is extraordinarily funny as the wedding videographer who fancies himself as an auteur, delivering some home truths to Gary.
Eli Craig knows his way around a horror-comedy script. Between ‘Little Evil’ and the aforementioned ‘Tucker & Dale vs. Evil’, he is in control of his references versus originality. At 95 minutes, ‘Little Evil’ is about the right length, though I find myself wishing there had been more set-pieces. The final act is completely ludicrous, but so saccharine, even the coldest of hearts will be warmed.
For ardent horror fans, or those who would recognise the ‘classics’, ‘Little Evil’ will at least raise a smile as it lovingly pokes fun at, whilst simultaneously paying homage to, the icons of the ‘creepy child’ sub-genre. Distinctly lacking in horror though, and not really as clever or subversive as some of the great spoofs before it, it never quite hits the mark. There’s a lot to like, but don’t watch for the scares or the ‘laugh out loud’ moments; watch for the pastiche.