Many movies have amazing narratives that their creators squander. Stories that are daring and attention-grabbing are too often undercut by poor execution. Foolproof premises guaranteed to entertain are botched by a misguided production. And then, there are halfheartedly written films like “Little Evil.”
Directed by Eli Craig and starring Adam Scott, Evangeline Lilly and Owen Atlas in its principal roles, “Little Evil” represents the classic cinematic misstep of crafting a full-length feature film on what feels like a logline of an unfinished script. Scott stars as Gary Bloom, a mild-mannered real estate agent who has recently married his self-professed dream girl Samantha (Lilly). The only hitch in the newlyweds’ relationship is the unnerving nature of Samantha’s son, Lucas (Atlas). Though Gary has the best intentions, he learns that being a stepfather is hard, especially to a stepson who may or may not be the Antichrist. “What if ‘The Omen’ was a comedy?” asks the film. The answer: definitively mediocre.
Despite casting a number of talented actors and actresses alike, “Little Evil” instead elects to focus on progressing a plot devoid of any semblance of wit. Known comics such as Chris D’Elia, Donald Faison and Kyle Bornheimer are left retreading the same tired jokes about the struggles of parenthood and raising children while the movie speeds through a simplistic plot full of both horror and comedic tropes. A jump scare here and a poop joke there, and the movie’s first two-thirds are over.
When the narrative does finally get interesting, however, the film makes a complete 180 and nonsensically spends more time with its now underdeveloped characters. Scott’s ‘nice-guy Gary’ checks off all the boxes on his character arc towards accepting the responsibilities of fatherhood while Lilly’s Sam makes frustrating choice after choice, ensuring that her character is not only unfunny, but nearly wholly unlikable. Worse yet, the film casts Bridget Everett (of “Patti Cake$” and “Inside Amy Schumer” fame) as possible show-stealer, Al, only to have her act as a more-restrained Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids.”
The lack of cohesion between the film’s set-up of its main players and the extent to which the plot makes use of (or even needs) them is jarring and lessens the impact that the serviceable third act has on concluding the feature. Whereas the first half of “Little Evil” plays out unremarkably and as safe as its brief synopsis would suggest, the second half begins to showcase some character, style and heart that its beginning was severely lacking. Scott and Atlas reveal some endearing chemistry while the dialogue becomes more fast-paced and off-the-cuff, shedding its previously clichéd feel. Although the pace at which the finale comes to a close leaves a few dangling threads and suspect developments narrative-wise, the ending itself feels much more confident in its thematic goals.
In fact, it’s clear director Craig took inspiration from his previous film, the vastly underrated “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil,” in the final act. “Tucker and Dale” also deals with a conscious creative flip of an established sect of horror cinema but exudes genuineness whereas “Little Evil” is bereft of it. From its hillbilly protagonists to the ludicrousness of its story, “Tucker and Dale” portrayed characters realistic enough that an audience could relate while simultaneously creating a story unique enough to stand on its own. Craig’s latest film, on the other hand, simply cannot muster the human element necessary to make such an outlandish and, frankly, contrived story consistently engaging to watch. “Little Evil” is without a solid, heartfelt through line, which deprives its players and narrative of a sense of unity.
Not unlike a myriad of filmmakers before him, Craig partially succumbs to the structure of the genre he sought to mock in “Little Evil,” and while it’s certainly not the worst Netflix-original content, it’s only worth remembering until the next season of “Stranger Things.”
Contact Sanjay Nimmagudda at [email protected].