Little Evil: A Decent Referential Horror-Comedy
Review by Aaron Haughton
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil writer/director Eli Craig's latest made-for-Netflix effort proves to be charming and enjoyable, but isn't without its problems. Similar to Craig's first feature, Little Evil succeeds in its genial nature, but still feels like a sketch premise stretched to feature length. Where Tucker & Dale managed to twist the cliché, Little Evil spends a majority of its time pandering to the referential without much revelation. Luckily, the comedy sticks the landing.
Adam Scott plays Gary, a man who recently married the love of his life, Samatha (played by Evangeline Lilly), and is now the stepfather to her sinister Damien-esque 5 year old son, Lucas (played by Owen Atlas). Soon enough, Gary finds himself smack dab in the middle of increasingly odd situations with Lucas at the center, leading Gary to believe his new stepson may actually be demon spawn.
The film gets off to a bad start with an unnecessary scene of foreshadowing that is quick to jump into the overdone horror feel. The open doesn't really enhance the narrative at all and, when compared to the rest of the film, comes across as tonally uneven. Once the opening is dead and buried, one thing becomes apparent: the film is actually pretty cheeky.
The comedy in the film really lands and derives from the array of great character actors and comedians that are sprinkled throughout. Chris D'Elia, Sally Field, Clancy Brown, Donald Faison, and Tyler Labine are just a few of the names that make a splash with their cameos; however, Bridget Everett (also in this year's Patti Cake$) absolutely steals the show as AL, the butch lesbian who hams up the masculine, even referring to herself as a "stepdad." She steals the thunder from nearly every scene she's in and, aside from Scott, she plays the most fully formed character. However, no matter the actor on screen, their chemistry with one another really bleeds through and the comedy is always front and center, which carries the weight of film.
The story relies too heavily on the familiar without any flourishes of nuance. There are horror film references abound, which is 100% okay as long as it doesn't feel derivative, but in the case of Little Evil, it nearly always does. The major nuance Craig brings to the horror table is Lucas' goat puppet, which manages to be both funny and creepy. The horror aspects in the film only really function as a nod or chuckle. Even the editing at times feels cut out of an Edgar Wright Cornetto film, which is definitely not a bad thing, but just comes as slightly left field tip of the hat for no apparent reason. This homages don't detract from the film, but they also do very little to enrich it.
Matthew Clark's cinematography, on the other hand, definitely helps to augment the experience. His lighting in the film is pretty stunning and may be his best work to date. Clark's versatility springs from darkened horror to bright lit family-comedy with ease, which matches the tone of Craig's screenplay perfectly, adding to its easygoing charm.
In the end, the film loses steam as it winds down to a close, but it doesn't stay a minute past its welcome and is pretty evenly paced. Despite it's mostly uninteresting plays on the familiar, the acting and the comedy manage to maintain a consistently fun ride. It's similar in style and absurdity to films like Hell Baby or Cooties, but turns out to be more entertaining because the comedy hits harder.
Rating: 3 horrible mulching accidents outta 5.
What do you think? Did the horror references in the film work for you? Did the comedy land? Did Bridget Everett steal the show for you too? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!