The Good: The acting is all right, Moments of humor, Decent direction
The Bad: Characters are types as opposed to individuals, Troubling blend of humor and horror, No chemistry between the adult leads, Obvious plot progression for the bulk of the film.
The Basics: Little Evil ineffectively blends humor and horror into a troubling film that is more unsettling than it is entertaining.
Netflix has a decidedly mixed record when it comes to the films it produces. Despite that, I still eagerly watch a lot of the original films Netflix produces and today, that meant taking in Little Evil. It appears that this year, instead of bucking cinematic trends, Netflix is simply adopting them and its participation in The September Slump (which is often characterized by schlocky horror films and banal comedies) is Little Evil. I was instantly encouraged that Little Evil might be a better-than-average Netflix film based on Adam Scott, Evangeline Lilly, and Clancy Brown participating in the film.
Sadly, that was not the case.
Little Evil is a horror-comedy that works so hard to try to balance the two genres that it fails to do either in a satisfying way and it completely fails to create characters that the viewer can be empathized with. And I get that some of the point of Little Evil is to create a satire where group therapy and religious people completely fail to recognize an antichrist, where the stepfather in the film is more engaged than the biological mother, but the film fails to successfully convey its points in a way that makes the story feel organic and well-developed.
A week before he is buried alive by his new stepson, Lucas, Gary moves in with his new wife, Samantha. Gary tries to engage with Lucas, but his stepson is creepy and weird, doing things like bringing Gary a handful of worms when Gary tries to bond with him. While Gary is in the process of selling an abandoned nunnery to a local evangelical priest who predicts that the end times are here, Gary is called to Lucas's school. Lucas, apparently, told one of his teachers to "go to hell," moments before she poured lye on herself and threw herself out a window. Gary is sent to group therapy where he hears other stepdads having issues with their new kids.
After a clown sets himself on fire at Lucas's sixth birthday party, Gary reluctantly visits the wedding videographer, who shows him footage of their disastrous wedding that indicates that Lucas might be the antichrist. Gary and his pal, Al, team up to try to learn more, journeying to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to enlist the aid of Gozamel, who is killed on the trip back to Gary's home. When Gary resigns himself to the idea that he might have to kill Lucas to save the world and prevent the apocalypse, he takes his stepson out to a water park blessed by the Pope and begins to have doubts. Gary's role as Lucas's stepfather is complicated when he begins to bond with the boy, but doomsday cult leaders abduct Lucas and Samantha.
At the core of the issues with Little Evil is the fact that the characters do not work. Gary and Samantha are newlyweds who had a very short relationship before getting married and there is zero sexual chemistry between Adam Scott and Evangeline Lilly. Gary and Samantha apparently had a short, hot and heavy relationship, but days after they are married, they seem to have no connection. Sadly, the main relationship in Little Evil makes no sense as the two characters seem to have no genuine care for one another or even things in common. Gary clearly did not do his due diligence in getting Samantha's backstory before they got married, too.
Particularly troubling in the way Samantha is presented. Less than seven years ago, Samantha was taken in by a cult and raped, resulting in Lucas and that was followed by several men in her life meeting gruesome deaths. But, she's fine; she's been out dating and getting married, neglecting Lucas and showing no shock or reaction to what is given as exposition as a pretty horrible life.
The best relationship in Little Evil is the buddy comedy style relationship between Gary and his co-worker, Al. Al is going through step-dad issues of her own as her wife's son is not bonding well with her, so she and Gary actually have common experiences to relate with one another over.
While Little Evil generally treads toward comedy, it does so after being set up as a horror with jump scares and a thoroughly creepy performance from child actor Owen Atlas. Atlas is charged mostly with staring and looking evil and he nails it, but the early focus on Lucas as a creepy, evil child makes it hard to accept the turn toward comedy when it comes. The transition is much more erratic than it is entertaining.
Little Evil pulls itself out of its own mire in the final third, but by that point, it is hard to be invested in the characters, plot or even the themes of the film.
For other Netflix exclusive films, please check out my reviews of:
To The Bone
You Get Me
Take The 10
True Memoirs Of An International Assassin
I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House
The Fundamentals Of Caring
The Ridiculous 6
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.