05th Sep2017

‘Little Evil’ Review (Netflix)

by Joel Harley

Stars: Adam Scott, Evangeline Lilly,  Owen Atlas, Sally Field, Clancy Brown, Tyler Labine, Donald Faison, Bridget Everett | Written and Directed by Eli Craig

little-evil-poster

Other people’s kids can be the worst, huh? Spare a thought for poor Gary (Adam Scott) whose six-year-old stepson may well be the Antichrist. Otherwise happily married to the lovely Samantha (Evangeline Lilly), Gary is prepared to do anything he can to get little Lucas on side… even if that means risking his own life and those around him. Parenting can be, ahem, Hell.

Little Evil is the latest comedy horror from Tucker and Dale vs Evil writer-and-director Eli Craig, a film beloved by no small portion of the horror community. With seven years between this and Craig’s celebrated debut, can he pull it off again? Or is Little Evil as predictable and lame as its trailer suggested?

Thankfully, no! While the comedy is played even broader than it was in Tucker and Dale, it retains the heart and the soul, and casts a similarly likeable personality as its lead. Parks and Recreation fans will be unsurprised to find that Adam Scott is great as the film’s straight man, beset by an evil stepson and the forces of evil which follow him. Why risk his life by sticking around at all? The film cannily answers the question by casting Evangeline Lilly as his wife, naïve to her son’s evil and as adorable here as she ever was in Lost. It’s a role which could come over as one-note, but Lilly does a good job with it – balancing frustration with a subtle understanding – reminding us that she’s one of cinema’s more underrated actresses.

Like Tucker and Dale vs Evil, it skewers and subverts familiar horror tropes – this time those of The Omen and its ilk – playing with audience expectation and cinematic convention. None of this is particularly deep or original (and Hot Fuzz did this sort of thing better and with a higher degree of accuracy!) but horror fans should enjoy its playfulness. And it’s a good comedy on its own terms too, with a strong supporting cast and funny script. Tyler Labine pops up to amuse the Tucker and Dale fans again, Donald Faison is reliably likeable as one of Gary’s support group friends, and there are fun roles for Clancy Brown and Sally Field. But the show is really stolen by Bridget Everett as Gary’s pal Al, getting all of the best lines, big laughs and a fine line in sarcasm too.

The weakest link, sadly, is the Antichrist himself. The broadness of the comedy and a hefty dose of schmaltz keeps Lucas from ever crossing the line into real darkness (an incident with a clown aside) so he’s really just… there, acting creepy but never coming across as a tangible threat. When it inevitably comes time for the narrative to switch tracks, the film comes dangerously close to running out of steam, but the chemistry and charisma of its performers thankfully see it through to the end.

Like its predecessor, Little Evil aims high but doesn’t always hit the right notes. The more structured story, stronger jokes and tighter writing make it a better movie than Tucker and Dale vs Evil (yeah, I said it) but it’s let down by the broadness of the comedy and mishandling of its tiny monster. Little Evil is very funny, charming and extremely agreeable, but it’s just a bit too, well, little.

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