It’s a little bit of a cliche, isn’t it? The whole evil kids thing?
While the earliest example I can think of is 1960’s Village of the Dammed (at least from a film-making point of view); the concept of evil kids stretches back centuries in literature, with various examples in both ancient Chinese and European stories.
So when I say it’s been done, it REALLY has been done!
But, I have to be honest, I can’t recall a single film or book that tried to do the evil child as a comedy. Sure, you get the occasional Simpsons episode or Scary Movie that will usually make a one-off joke. But an entire movie? And brought to life by the genius who wrote and directed 2010’s Tucker & Dale vs Evil?
Hmmm…. That sounds pretty original!
Gary Bloom (Adam Scott) is a real estate agent that has just married the woman of his dreams; Samantha (Evangeline Lily.) However, in marrying he has also become step-father to her very odd 6 year old son; Lucas (Owen Atlas)
At first Gary sees Lucas as a very shy young boy who just needs a little time to get used to the new arrangements. But when Lucas’s teacher throws herself out of a third story window when Lucas tells her to “Go to Hell,” Gary starts to think there may be more to his new step-son than originally meets the eye.
A comedy generally lives and dies by two things: its script and its actors. And in this film, writer/director Eli Craig has excelled at the latter, but not necessarily the former.
In Adam Scott, Craig has found a likable everyman. Though it’s not too different to similar roles Scott’s played before, here such normalcy helps elevate the material for the simple fact that most of the comedy comes from the idea of placing a normal man into an abnormal world. In that sense there are comparisons that could be made with the famous 1997 Simpsons episode; Homer’s Enemy, where “Average Joe” Frank Grimes must try to deal with the freakish Homer Simpson.
A ton of comedy is mined from that episode in seeing Grimes trying to deal with the utter ridiculousness of the world he inhabits. And in that sense, Scott succeeds in doing the same for Little Evil. From the scene where the clown accidentally sets itself on fire; to the moment where Gary finds out his wife lost her virginity to a Satan-worshiping death cult; Scott manages to keep that sense of bewilderment and confusion at the forefront of his performance.
But his performance is not a solo accomplishment, with Lily doing an amazing job in essentially playing the straight man every time she insists that her son is perfectly normal, even while he plays with a simultaneously ridiculous/creepy goat sock-puppet! (That’s his friend Reeroy. He loves playing with him!)
Said creep-factor is brought to life, not only by Atlas’ nightmarish (and surprisingly impressive) performance; but also by Craig’s careful eye for horror tropes. The suicide from The Omen; the ghostly twins from The Shining; and the broken TV from The Ring. It’s all here, but never could it be said in a cliched manner. Rather Craig uses said scenes to poke fun at the conventions of the genre; helping to sell both the horror and comedic aspects of the film.
Having said that there are certain aspects of the script that don’t quite work; most notably the fact that Gary takes almost half the movie before realising his step-son is the Antichrist. While logically it makes sense that Gary would need to investigate; it’s still unusual to have the audience’s knowledge be so far ahead of the characters themselves. Indeed, because of this it’s hard not to feel on occasion that the movie should “hurry up”, so to speak.
And come the third act, it’s clear the movie has lost its original conviction by twisting inelegantly into a far more heartfelt father-son storyline. While suitably sweet, it doesn’t mesh with what has come before and leads to a oddly cliched ending.
Little Evil starts off well, playing off the many horror cliches with panache and confidence. But come the third act the sudden shift into a more sentimental tone, while not destroying the movie, does mean the story essentially falls at the final hurdle.