‘Sounds like your average Devil-child to me.’ – Gozomel, dwarf demon hunter.
From the writer/director of the subversive horror/comedy Tucker & Dale vs Evil (and sadly, little else in the way of full feature-length films), Eli Craig has returned with Netflix Original that once again reshapes a horror subgenre, this time playing with the evil child trope and the expectations that come with it.
The Omen, obviously, is one of the first films that springs to mind when the ‘evil kid’ narrative, though it is by no means the only example. The Good Son features an evil McCauley Culkin (Kevin McCallister’s long-lost evil twin, it seems) who terrorizes a young Elijah Wood. Meanwhile, Children of the Corn (and its many, many sequels) also fits nicely, whereas Orphan plays around with the conventions of the subgenre without adding the humour of Little Evil. Listing examples potentially could go on and on. Creepy evil kids saturate the horror genre in almost every medium whether they are evil incarnate Damien, bloodthirsty killers as with Mike Myers of Rob Zombie’s Halloween, or the supernatural Grady twins of The Shining.
With that in mind, it is probably high time that the creepy kid genre be stretched out and reshaped in the capable hands of someone has done the same for the redneck horror genre. Gary Bloom (Adam Scott) is tasked with being stepfather to little Lucas, a little, evil son of a mother in disbelief (is there any other kind in these horror types?), Samantha Bloom (Evangeline Lilly).
Gary is of course next in a long line of Lucas’ stepfathers who have mysteriously died in bizarre and gruesome accidents, and familiar tropes and intertextuality do not stop there. Satantic motifs playfully punctuate the paranormal plot (666 and a goat hand puppet included for good measure), and other generic conventions make their welcome appearance – the speech of a Priest speaking in tongues is reversed in a satanic message, horrific nightmare visions are caused by Lucas, and a Priest foresees the end times. There are of course yet more of what the audiences expects from the genre, in the forms of character and plot points, but these horror clichés are turned comically on their head. Think Scary Movie, only funny.
References are cleverly made to other horror films with kids at the core, including The Shining‘s Grady twins, Poltergiest tv silhouette, a corn field as with King’s Children of the Corn and a iconographic reference in regards to Lucas’ clothes mirroring Damien’s from the hat right down to the shoes, to name a few. In the realms of pastiche, such references are expected and welcomed, the film marking its reference points as it simultaneously tears them apart and throws them back together. Craig does this with some aptitude as he does Tucker & Dale, especially when one considers how frequent horror/comedies are produced and how often they end in critical and commercial failure.
The simple horror plot is forgivable, more so when it is crafted purposely as such in order to make light of the tropes, clichés and conventions that we have come to love. Pastiche, it seems, is a great way of retelling the same tired old stories instead relying upon twists that grow yet more unbelievablewith new film that attempts something a little different. Orphan is a prime example of a plot twist so extremely unlikely it makes the film funnier than it should have been, instead of aiming for funny from the off.
In the respect of the above, performances throughout the film are fitting, with Adam Scott playing the unlikely stepfather hero and Evangeline Lilly as the disbelieving mother who could not fathom that her son may be evil incarnate. Owen Atlas lends his creepy-kid acting ability along with a naturally creepy kid resting face. Though none of the actors truly stand out as such, it is not to the detriment of the pastiche plot or the film at large – we are not here for Oscar-worthy performances. However, much of the more comical and memorable moments of the film are derived from the supporting cast of characters – the post-modernism of the plot is more important than the performances of of those playing generic characters.
Eli Craig’s Little Evil is a fun little Sunday afternoon horror/comedy better scripted and produced than many of the hybrid genre. While not quite on par with Tucker & Dale, Little Evil offers a fresh, funny slice of satanic cake.
The Film Fanatic