Friday, January 3, 2020

Little Evil (USA, 2017)

Dunno rightly what director/scriptwriter Eli Craig is up to most of the time, but he hasn't exactly had the most active career over the last decade. (A shame, if you get down to it.) The son of the revered American former flying nun Sally Field, Craig had a few odd parts in a few odd movies (like Carrie: The Rage [1999]) before, seemingly out of the blue, he wrote and directed one of the best contemporary black comedy cum horror films to remain unjustly unknown, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (USA, 2010).
As is often the case of idiosyncratic independent productions, however, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil was never the hit it should have been and thus, in turn, obviously never opened as many doors as it should have. It probably didn't help all that much that Craig's next project was the failed pay-TV pilot (2013 / trailer) to Ruben Fleischer's Zombieland (2009), the latter of which is a fun film that had the studio support required to become the hit that Tucker & Dale should have been. (BTW, as if you didn't know, Zombieland now has a sequel: Zombieland: Double Tap [2019 / trailer].)
As luck would have it, however, two years ago and totally off the radar, Craig popped up again with a new comedy horror, Little Evil. Unluckily, it is a film that no one has heard of and that now seems to be relegated to the nether regions of Netfux, its producer, which is where we accidentally found it while searching desperately for something half-way interesting to watch.
Little Evil, like Tucker & Dale, is surprisingly good-natured for a horror comedy, and although its core pedagogic theme may be that we all have free choice — or, to borrow the key platitude of the (sadly) theatrical big budget flop Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (2009 / trailer), "It's not what you are, but who you are" — Little Evil, like Tucker & Dale, is also an ode of sorts to the power of friendship. For in the end, were it not for all his pals from the Stepfather's Support Group, the hero of Little Evil would hardly have been able save the day (and, in turn, the world) in the final  scenes.
The basic plot of Little Evil is a twist on that of The Omen (1976 / trailer): in 7th heaven for having married Samantha (Evangeline Lilly), the single-mom woman of his dreams — like, who wouldn't be in seventh heaven if married to Evangeline Lilly? — everyday-Joe Gary (Adam Scott of Krampus [2015] and the great Alan Smithee's Hellraiser: Bloodline [1996 / trailer]) comes to realize that Samantha's weird and unfriendly son, Lucas (Owen Atlas), is no one less than the anti-Christ, fathered by no one less than Satan himself. All the signs are there to see, for everyone but a beautiful and ditzy mother blinded by her love for her child…
Like Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Little Evil rarely delves too far into the dark, and its jokes are rarely pointlessly mean despite the "horror movie" framework. For that, however, Little Evil is far less bloody or comically violent than Tucker & Dale vs. Evil — indeed, the for-laughs money shots of Little Evil hardly even hold a candle to the original Omen (we never saw the 2006 remake [trailer]), despite that film being a creaky 41 years older. Aside from a quick scene of a teacher being pulled from the spikes of a fence (a scene that momentarily made us remember our favorite Mario Bava movie, Kill, Baby… Kill! [1966 / trailer]) and a truly disturbing dream sequence involving worms, Little Evil is relatively toothless when it comes to the visceral that contemporary audiences tend to expect, even in a horror comedy. It is very much a PG film — not even PG-13 — and is also all the weaker for it…
That said, if one is in no way familiar with Craig's first film, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Little Evil definitely will be a much less disappointing and much more entertaining watch, for it is truly a funny and entertaining horror comedy that only becomes in any way lacking when put in comparison to Craig's first film. Played straight and well-paced, thanks to its low viscerality Little Evil is a horror comedy appropriate for the whole family — which was perhaps Craig's intention in the first place. Give it a go.

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