Having found hilarious footing with the surprise gem Tucker and Dale Vs Evil, writer-director Eli Craig enters his sophomore project with a potentially gut-busting idea: newly married stepfather Gary (Adam Scott) has to deal with the possibility that his new son could in fact be the spawn of Satan incarnate. Poking fun at fellow horror flicks like The Omen sounds like a great way to repeat the same satire success with Craig’s previous horror spoof, right? While Little Evil is definitely a good feature in its own right with its fair share of funny moments, it doesn’t exactly play to the same levels absurdity as one would expect.
As always, Adam Scott makes for a charismatic lead, and is easily one of the biggest highlights of the story. His role as the lovable, but in way over his head patriarch, easily provides the movie’s greatest laughs, especially when he’s left to deal with the demon spawn on his own, and has to live with his wife Samantha (Evangeline Lilly) who doesn’t believe him or severely underestimates how problematic her son is to his health. In addition, the child actor Owen Atlas does a great job of playing the demonic, creepy stepson Lucas whom Gary has to deal with in his new family life. And not just on the horror elements either, but when Gary and Lucas start bonding, it feels genuine, in large part because of surprisingly successful dynamics between Scott and Atlas.
There’s also a surprising amount of heart to be had in this story, when Gary decides to start treating Lucas like an actual son instead of a monster, and despite the demon child’s potential for darkness, they begin to bond with one another. As strange as that is to see in a movie about the Antichrist, it’s a notably nice touch.With Gary and the hi-jinks he has to suffer from dealing with his kid, like being buried alive, or going to group therapy to try to talk about the strange behaviors of his devil son, it plays to a sweet effect to see Gary step up as an adult, even when he has every right to storm out and demand a divorce. It’s especially humorous to see how the side characters react to the realization that their own lives aren’t nearly as troubled as Gary’s. Like friend and co-worker Al (Bridget Everett,) who brings quite a few laughs to the table when they suggest Gary go to counseling in the first place.
However, that doesn’t mean Little Evil is quite the repeated success that was Craig’s last feature. Is it good? Absolutely. Is it great like Tucker and Dale Vs Evil? Not so much. The film doesn’t play out like one would expect from writer director Eli Craig. Instead of it already being well established that this is the Antichrist and Scott’s character trying to figure out how to raise it, it’s goes more the stereotypical “Gary must go through a journey of discovery” where he realizes that his new stepson is the Antichrist. And while that outline is serviceable enough, it just feels a little too “acceptable” for someone coming off the hilarious Tucker and Dale Vs Evil to settle for a route we’ve already seen in similar horror flicks. Why not go the route of both parents being aware of his satanic DNA and Gary just has to deal with his extremes in what would have been normal kid situations? There just feels like there’s a lot of untapped potential here.
The film should’ve gone darker. For a Netflix feature film that carries a mature rating, it feels rather tame. There’s really next to nothing in terms of blood and gore, which one would expect there to be plenty of regarding Craig’s last feature project. Aside from a character or two momentarily shown getting impaled on something, that’s about it. It’s PG-13 gore. Looking back, Little Evil is probably one of the more gentle “Mature” films Netflix has put out in their entire run. Cut out a few f bombs from the script, it could have easily carried a TV-14 rating.
In the end, however, Little Evil still makes for good, late night entertainment in its own right. Thanks in large part to Adam Scott, and the dynamics he toys around with in interacting with Owen Atlas’ demon child persona, the laughs they provide are enough to carry the feature past its shortcomings. It may not exactly be the follow-up many were looking for from Eli Craig, but Little Evil conjures up a charming, frequently funny family horror comedy, even if its gut busting premise never reaches full potential.