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D: Eli Craig / 95m

Cast: Adam Scott, Evangeline Lilly, Bridget Everett, Clancy Brown, Owen Atlas, Kyle Bornheimer, Chris D’Elia, Donald Faison, Tyler Labine, Sally Field, Brad Williams

Depending on the circumstances, the three scariest words in the world are either, “I love you”, or “starring Liam Hemsworth”. But now, there’s another contender, one that can also strike fear and panic into even the sturdiest of hearts, and that is: “a Netflix film”. They’re coming along thick and fast these days, but for every well received movie, there are three or four others that are cinematically dead in the water, snoozefests that should have been cancelled at the first idea stage. In this fashion, Netflix, by taking a scattershot, let’s-make-it-anyway approach, have foisted a number of dire movies on its members over the last few years, and they show absolutely no sign of stopping. Let’s face it: for every Okja (2017), there’s a Special Correspondents (2016) or a Sandy Wexler (2017).

And now there’s Little Evil, a comedy horror where the two are indistinguishable from each other, and its spoof elements land with huge resounding thuds. It’s a movie that strives to be a comedic spin on The Omen (1976) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), but which succeeds only in reminding the viewer of just how iconic and original those movies truly are. You have to ask yourself, why did anybody – least of all writer-director Eli Craig – think this was a good idea? A spoof of two movies that between them are forty-one and forty-nine years old respectively, and have stood the test of time as classics of the horror genre? Who needs that now? And who in their right mind allowed this movie to go ahead? This isn’t a movie that’s going to be regarded with anything like the fondness or respect that The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby have accrued over the years; chances are it won’t be remembered at all a year from now – and that’s just by its stars.

The plot is straightforward: realtor Gary (Scott) has recently married single mom Samantha (Lilly). She has a son, Lucas (Atlas), who will soon be six, but he’s a little withdrawn, doesn’t speak much, and likes wearing clothes similar to those worn by Harvey Stephens in the 1976 classic. Strange events happen around Lucas quite often, but Samantha always brushes these things aside, while Gary starts to notice that maybe, just maybe what’s weird is Lucas himself. Footage from his and Samantha’s wedding shows the priest speaking backwards and charging Gary with protecting Lucas from hellfire and brimstone, while a subsequent outbreak of freak weather sees the child unaffected in the midst of it all. There are further clues: Samantha revealing that Lucas was conceived during a ceremony that took place at the cult she was a member of, and the coincidental arrival in town of biblical end of days preacher Reverend Gospel (Brown).

Gary gains help through some of the members of a stepfather support group he finds himself joining (don’t ask). But while he begins to get them to accept the idea that little Lucas is the Antichrist, Lucas takes the issue by his father’s horns and buries Gary in the backyard. Rescued by Samantha (who takes Lucas’s side and doesn’t believe her son has any issues at all; it’s Gary’s fault for not bonding with him!), Gary, who has done his research, tries one last time to connect with Lucas, and finds himself succeeding. But just as Gary is making headway in getting Lucas to believe he can be “anyone he wants to be”, the boy is kidnapped by Gospel’s followers, and so is Samantha. Cue a race against time to stop Lucas being sacrificed and Lucifer allowed to use his body to come into the world. Will Gary and his friends from the stepfather support group (Everett, D’Elia, Faison, Bornheimer) be in time to save the world from Satan? Will Gary get his new family back (minus the Satanic influences)? And will anyone really care if he doesn’t?

The answers to all those questions are as obvious as the cracks in Craig’s screenplay. But this isn’t a movie that’s interested in creating a believable milieu for its story to play out against, and nor is it a movie that’s been carefully thought through from beginning to end. Like many spoofs, it operates in a world that’s so far removed from the real one that any attempt at trying to get it to fit in is redundant – and so it proves. Samantha shows the kind of denial over Lucas’s actions that make no sense and can’t be rationalised, no matter how hard Craig or Lilly try, while Gary shrugs off being buried alive with all the resilience of a man who has to because the script says he does. But even with all this – and there’s much, much more – there’s no reason for things to be so disjointed and credibility-free. Craig cleverly created a world that operated within its own skewed logic when he made the wonderfully irreverent Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010), but the knack has deserted him here, and the silly tone and generic narrative seriously undermine his efforts in telling an enjoyable story (though there is one great joke involving cornfields; inevitably, it’s in the trailer).

With so much of the movie playing out without any kind of regard for dramatic structure or comedic flow – this has all the hallmarks of a movie where the director was the last person to be consulted over any decisions that needed to be made – it’s left to Scott to keep us interested, and good though he is, the material defeats him time and again. Spare a thought for the likes of Brown and Field as well, used to little effect in a movie that’s going through the motions and which sometimes feels like it’s been designed that way. The humour wears thin pretty quickly, and the real horror is that there’s no horror to speak of (unless you count Atlas’ performance). In the end it all feels like a movie made by committee rather than a writer-director who should be able to make more of an impression than he does here, but maybe that’s what “a Netflix film” is: a movie made by Netflix and not by real movie makers.

Rating: 3/10 – a barebones parody of two of the finest horror movies ever made shows the paucity of the ideas involved within the first fifteen minutes, and then slides inexorably downhill from there, making Little Evil a fruitless experience that just keeps on disappointing its audience; when a movie’s idea of humour is to repeat a joke about a step-parent defecating into their son’s school bag then you know it’s in trouble.