Director: Eli Craig
Cast: Adam Scott, Evangeline Lilly, Clancy Brown, Sally Field, Tyler Labine
Watch Little Evil online in the UK: Netflix UK
Children are scary. Everyone knows it. Parents know it, as they terrifyingly stumble to finding the right way to raise their kid. Non-parents know it, as they watch on with rather-you-than-me trepidation. And horror directors know it more than most, as the creepy child trope has become a baby genre in itself. Little Evil is the latest addition to the canon, following a stepdad whose stepson turns out to be the AntiChrist – and the Netflix comedy is nicely conceived, if not always well executed.
On paper, it is easy to see why Netflix’s Scott Stuber was so keen to throw his support behind the project, which began at Universal, where he was a chief exec, and followed him to the streaming service: with Parks and Recreation’s Adam Scott and The Hobbit’s Evangeline Lilly set to star, and with Tucker and Dale vs Evil director Eli Craig at the helm, it’s a formula that screams with promise.
This is no Tucker and Dale vs Evil, but there’s still some joy to be had in its company. That primarily stems from the way Craig’s script plays with horror formulae, as it takes The Omen-like premise and undermines the familiar scares at every opportunity. That means you can expect deliberately bizarre deaths and references to such classics as Poltergeist, and, in one inspired moment, an anecdote that reimagines a Rosemary’s Baby-esque scenario with a wry, casual tone.
The balance between scares and laughs is a hard one to pull off, though, and it’s here that Little Evil fails, never quite delivering on the laughs you know the cast and Craig can produce. One occult expert, played by Brad Williams, feels like a particularly cheap gag, while Bridget Everett as a member of Gary’s stepdad support group switches between surprising and crudely unsubtle.
Where it succeeds, though, is in the more nuanced humour, as Craig deftly draws the parallel between the age-old terror of the devil’s spawn and the lesser-known fear of filling another dad’s shoes. “It’s like he’s…” begins Gary, at one point, trying to describe Lucas in a therapy session. “Evil incarnate?” offers another (Donald Faison), nodding in recognition. It’s that serious treatment of stepdad-dom that makes Little Evil a satisfying, if slight, watch, as Craig breaks from the tried-and-tested evil stepmother conventions to focus on the perils of father-son bonding – the phrase “full custody” has never sounded so ominous.
Owen Atlas as young Lucas, complete with goat sock puppet, does well to maintain enough innocence to seem sweet, while Lilly enjoys playing the oblivious mother. Scott, meanwhile, has enough dramatic chops to make his gradual connection with her boy actually endearing. Their relationship culminates in a cute scene at a water park (that was blessed by The Pope). It’s almost a shame that there’s another 20 minutes to go – with a lot more laughs, Little Evil could have been a big treat.
Little Evil is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.