Of course the son of Satan has daddy issues.
It’s impossible to talk about director Eli Craig without mentioning his first movie, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. It’s a bona fide cult classic among viewers who lean towards the bloodier side of comedy, and one which hilariously subverts the tropes and stereotypes we associate with the backwoods hillbilly subgenre. Plus, amid the woodchipper massacres and deranged, homicidal college students, there’s a sweet tale of friendship at the center that elevates it above most horror comedies.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil should have been the director’s stepping stone to the big time, but since its initial release seven years ago, Craig has remained fairly quiet. Apart from helming an episode of Brothers & Sisters and the pilot for Amazon’s Zombieland TV series that didn’t materialize, he’s been slowly putting his sophomore feature together since 2013.
That’s the case with a lot of exciting directors working in genre fare over the last decade or so, though. Craig is one of several talents who introduced themselves to the world with an overnight cult sensation only to spend the next few years trying to get that elusive second feature made. However, 2017 has proven to be somewhat of a comeback year for those deserving filmmakers.
In 2009, Australian director Sean Byrne burst onto the scene with The Loved Ones, but it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that his latest effort, The Devil’s Candy, finally saw the light of day. Meanwhile, fellow Aussie Steven Kastrissios, whose hard-hitting revenge thriller Horseman was released in 2008 to critical acclaim, is back with his second movie, Bloodlands. Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun) supposedly has a new movie in the works as well, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
Anyway, Craig’s return to the scene is long overdue and hopefully a return to more consistent work for him. Unfortunately, his latest outing isn’t the blistering comeback some fans of his last movie might be hoping for. Little Evil is, however, a reasonably entertaining comedy that continues to demonstrate his mushy sensibilities.
The film tells the story of Gary (Adam Scott), a guy who hits the jackpot when he marries the woman of his dreams, Samantha (Evangeline Lilly). There’s only one problem: Samantha used to be in a cult and her son is the Antichrist. This poses a few problems for Gary’s adjustment to married life and parenting. Raising someone else’s kid is bad enough, but when it’s Lucifer’s offspring, you best be prepared for some awkward meetings with the school principal.
But Gary isn’t prepared to be a dad of any kind. He attends group therapy meetings with other stepfathers to help him overcome his communication issues. He’s a closed book, you see. But it’s during these scenes that we get to meet some of the film’s wackier characters.
Being devil spawn and all, the child has a habit of misbehaving. It’s typical kids fare really like commanding his teacher to jump out of the classroom window or instructing his birthday party clown to set himself on fire. Gary struggles to bond with his stepson, but when he suspects that the brat is responsible for the horrors happening around them, he’s forced to make some tough decisions: should he kill the boy for the sake of mankind, or help the kid discover his own free will and raise him to be a good person?
At its heart, Little Evil is a story about fatherhood – or the fear of it, to be more specific. In Gary, we have a protagonist trying to come to grips with his newfound responsibilities as a parent. We’ve seen this tale a thousand told times before, so to apply the concept to the Antichrist is a neat idea. It’s just a shame that Little Evil sticks to a familiar formula throughout and never manages to sustain a consistent level of quality comedy.
Still, Gary’s transition to fatherhood offers a few laughs along with moments of sentimental fluff as he gradually learns to love the problem child. Scott’s performance is grounded enough to lend some sincerity to proceedings, while a strong supporting cast featuring Tyler Labine (who is one of the funniest actors working today), Donald Faison, and Bridget Everett provide a solid comedic backbone.
It’s the cast’s charisma that carries the movie though, rather than the material they’re working with. While Little Evil does have a couple of really funny gags that land with a punch, the entertaining ensemble lend it more gravitas than it would have otherwise. Labine is a particular highlight as a budding filmmaker with small town delusions of grandeur, and his sheer conviction to the ridiculousness of the role is a joy to behold. We just don’t see enough of him.
The ‘little evil’ in question is basically a carbon copy of Damien from The Omen, and he’s one of several nods to horror classics to be found here. The unabashed affection on display for genre cinema is cute, and if you meet the movie on its own terms there is fun to be had. Still, while it’s all very well-intentioned and easy to digest, it’s also pretty forgettable come the end.
Little Evil premiered September 1st on Netflix.
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