Little Evil (2017)

DECEMBER 13, 2017


There aren't a lot of movies about evil children that I dislike (hell, it's hard to even disappoint me), and as Tucker & Dale was one of my favorite movies of the year I saw it (2010, though it was delayed for a bit and didn't come out until the following year if memory serves) I was eagerly looking forward to Eli Craig's followup, Little Evil. The premise seemed like a winner, basically a comedy version of The Omen (or a more supernaturally driven Problem Child) but with the always great Adam Scott in the (step)dad role (bonus, my beloved Evangeline Lilly as the child's mother), with the added bonus of Craig proving that he's able to wring plenty of laughs out of well-worn material while also adding some creative tweaks and even satisfying the "horror" part of the horror-comedy blend. Alas, the film simply didn't work for me; I barely ever laughed and found even less to enjoy about the storyline itself, which despite its R rating (for language only, as it turns out) is shockingly toothless and rarely steps outside of Omen's narrative. So it's The Omen but not scary or funny, basically - what's the point?

I'd be very curious to extend some benefit of the doubt to Craig and read the original script that was sold to Universal a few years back (Uni is not involved with the final version, which was released as a Netflix exclusive), as it seems like they had to chop some things out that maybe their non-Universal budget couldn't handle. For example, the film starts incredibly awkwardly, with a pointless flash-forward and some talk about Scott and Lilly's wedding being a disaster long before we see some brief footage of it from the videographer (Dale himself, Tyler Labine, in one of the film's few good scenes), making it feel like the film's first 20 minutes were excised/reworked. I could be wrong, but either way it puts the audience at a disadvantage for no good reason, and the flashforward spoils one of the film's central mysteries, which is whether or not Lilly's character was evil as well or if she genuinely didn't think anything was wrong with her son. There are other things throughout the movie that feel "off", such as a clown Scott rents for the kid's birthday party - they keep making a big deal about how he did a bad thing by hiring this particular guy, but we don't see him hiring him (when it's too late to care anymore he finally mentions that he just found the guy online), making it all feel like the punchline to a joke with no setup.

The other weird thing is that it keeps building up reveals to certain characters, like the kid's real dad or a hunter named Gozamel who will help them, seemingly setting up some stunt casting for these brief cameos. But no! They're just random guys! I mean nothing against the actors, but when you keep mentioning someone in an irreverent comedy and build up their first appearance, we're kind of trained to expect them to be someone that will make us laugh when we see them. Maybe Will Ferrell is the legendary hunter, or the child's father is an A-list "serious" actor from some previous devil movie having a little fun with his legacy (Gabriel Byrne would have scored the most points from me, obviously). The movie does indeed feature a few notable quickie roles (Sally Field as a child services agent, Clancy Brown as a priest who believes the end of the world is coming), and Scott's stepfather therapy group is rounded out by familiar TV stars like Donald Faison and Chris D'Elia (who scored the film's biggest laugh, in my opinion), but their appearances aren't really built up in any way. Again, it's just kinda "off", like they took the movie out of the oven before it was done baking.

Curiously, the film's wiki page notes that they didn't reshoot anything and it had a fairly brief schedule, so I can't help but wonder if it was one of those things where they rushed it into production to secure a certain actor (Scott has his own show on Fox, so I'm guessing his schedule was packed) and they simply didn't have time to rework things, let the actors fuck around to secure better improv takes, etc. I mean, the movie is definitely a comedy with supernatural elements, not a traditional "horror-comedy", so if it failed as a story that'd be almost forgivable as long as I was laughing a lot. The recent Ghostbusters update is a good example - I laughed a lot at the movie, so I at least enjoyed watching it the one time even though the story/villain were dogshit. Little Evil doesn't benefit from the same thing; I swear I only laughed I think five times throughout the movie, and I'm not exactly hard to please when it comes to comedy, especially this particular kind (irreverent/ironic/random). This is the kind of movie that seems tailor made for my sensibilities (killer kids! Dad stuff! Evangeline Lilly in a sundress!), but it just never came together for me.

Luckily, it did have a few bright spots that kept me from giving up entirely. The aforementioned scene with Labine as the pretentious wedding videographer was pretty funny; his chemistry with Scott was solid and it earned my first real laugh of the movie, where Scott seemed more concerned with the guy's lack of a tripod than the fact that his wedding was destroyed by a tornado that might have been caused by his Antichrist stepson. Craig gets some mileage out of Scott's fellow stepdads treating the whole "Antichrist" thing as yet another common issue stepdads have to deal with, and I liked that Craig worked in nods to other creepy kid moviess (Poltergeist, Children of the Corn, Rosemary's Baby...) without turning it into a ZAZ-style parody film. Plus I was happy that the devil really was involved, and that they didn't go the cop-out route and chalk every weird thing in the movie up to paranoia. Then again, Netflix spoils the happy (and lame, and like most other things in the film, clunkily established) ending with one of the screenshots that accompany the film's page (the ones that scroll past while you're reading the plot info), so it seemed like they didn't even want the audience to be surprised by anything.

Oh well. I watched the trailer a while back and was a bit concerned that there weren't any laughs, but I was hoping it would just be one of those deals where the trailer can't quite sell the movie's tone (and thus laughs) in the traditional way (one of my favorite comedies, Drowning Mona, doesn't have a funny trailer either). Alas, the trailer was dead on - the gags just keep falling flat for a variety of reasons, and while the kid is good there's not enough genuine menace for it to work as a black comedy either. It's just kind of there, leaving talented performers stranded and showing none of the spark that made Tucker and Dale such a winner. Hopefully I'm right and it just wasn't made under the best circumstances, and Craig can come back to my good graces with the next one. Until then, I trust someone can satisfy my evil child itch, comedically or otherwise? I can't just keep watching my Cathy's Curse blu-ray.

What say you?


  1. I couldn't finish it. I didn't hate it, I just found it a totally unfulfilling experience. I find a strange relief in knowing it didn't get any better.

    If the Tucker and Dale sequel gets made, I hope it's better.

  2. It's a funny great movie. I loved it.


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