Every once in awhile I’ll be sitting at home watching a movie and think to myself: why was this made? And it’s not the incredulous/happily shocked “how was this made” you get when you’re watching a really truly terrible movie. Most of the times I think it while I’m watching a movie that’s perfectly fine, that checks a lot of marks, that seems to have skill behind it, but still doesn’t excite anything in me. Even outrage is better than emptiness. And, only a few minutes into Little Evil, I was already asking myself that question.
Little Evil focuses on new stepdad Gary (Adam Scott) as he adjusts to life with his new wife Samantha (Evangeline Lilly) and her son, Lucas (Owen Atlas). For some inexplicable glossed over reason Samantha decided to not have her son and her future husband spend any time together before the wedding, and now Gary is tasked with making quick inroads with sullen, silent Lucas. As strange things keep happening, Gary becomes slowly convinced that Lucas is the Antichrist. Geez oh man.
The concept never gets pushed far in any direction. It never goes far enough to get into the horror of it, and the comedy bits land just fine, I guess, but they never feel like they intersect with the horror in any meaningful way, unlike a clear inspiration for this film, Shaun of the Dead. Overall the movie feels overproduced and underdeveloped, and it’s hard to say exactly why except that it doesn’t go anywhere or rather doesn’t even try to go anywhere. It’s fine sitting just where it is, which is a land of bland forgetfulness.
I guess part of it comes from what you expect from movies. To be a successful critic, on some levels, you have to evaluate what the movie is trying to be and judge it based on that. But on other levels, I think it’s far to advocate for more thoughtful art. Little Evil isn’t trying to be “high art”, but does that really mean it needs to feel so dispensable? Couldn’t it still be about something? I understand movies are entertainment, but still. Maybe it has the bad luck of coming after we’ve done three spooky sunday horror nights (our lead up to Halloween) but after watching Little Shop of Horrors, The Thing, and An American Werewolf in London – all of which fall more or less into the horror/comedy genre – I don’t feel it’s outrageous to demand some rough edges to snag the viewer, even in a comedy/horror, even in just good fun entertainment. All three of those movies will stick with me for a long time, and Little Evil will be forgotten tomorrow. It’s too polished.
Or maybe it should be about even less. Little Evil takes a stab at breaking down the difficulty of being a stepfather and stepson, but even this feels too polished, and its overt symbolic nature neuters the horror. Its an epidemic, the “false heart syndrome”, where movies feel they need to be about this challenge or this lesson or this warm fuzzy feeling and so build in a antithetical moral throughline that feels, inherently, hollow. Dissecting a difficult time in someone’s life through horror is a time-honored tradition, but without nuance it devolves quickly into drivel: “Being a stepfather is tough,” this movie posits… and then it just sort of sticks to that without inviting any nuance: I find it hard to believe a stepparent would watch this movie and feel like it “spoke to their experience”. They might at best say “yeah, it was difficult” but they’d never feel it on a more emotionally deep level. The Thing is about paranoia but it doesn’t just say “paranoia, what a thing, am I right?” – it shows you some of the dark places paranoia can go. Little Evil feints at this technique, but never goes there. It above all wants to be a comedy film, and in that case the heart could have and maybe should have come from a place of the actors having some fun without the film being about something. Ghostbusters is an enduring comedy/horror classic that is ostensibly about these underdogs but mostly about some friends getting together and making a fun movie. Would it be so wrong for people to try to make that sort of movie today?
Little Evil is fine. If you want to kill about an hour and a half, give it a whirl, but it never takes a step towards any of its elements. It isn’t really a horror movie, isn’t really a comedy movie, and doesn’t really have a beating heart at the center. It’s just a vehicle to help you pass through time without weighing you down by having to remember it, and to get you to keep your Netflix subscription.
Little Evil gets 4.5 cheap horror film references out of 10 demon voices.
- The director of this film definitely watched Shaun of the Dead at least five times before making this film because they love the quick cut pretend jump scare and the three shot montage technique employed in that movie, and they aren’t afraid to use them over and over and over and over again.
- There’s a Poltergeist reference AND a The Shining reference in this movie for all you real niche horror film nerds.