Eli Craig’s 2017 horror comedy Little Evil takes every demon child trope in the book and turns it on its head.
The film tells the story of Gary, a newly wed stepfather struggling to bond with his new wife Samantha’s five-year-old son, Lucas. His attempts to make conversation on the school run fall flat and clues slowly fall into place that Lucas might not be any ordinary little boy. A teacher commits suicide after Lucas tells her to go to hell. A clown at his birthday party accidentally catches fire. In Gary’s wedding video, Lucas can be seen standing deadly still and completely untouched despite a massive hurricane tearing the rest of the ceremony apart.
Gary investigates the mysteries further once he finds out that Lucas was conceived during a virgin ritual in a satanic cult that his mother had been a part of as a young woman. On his tortuous journey, Gary learns that Lucas is in fact the Antichrist and that it is his responsibility to kill him.
He takes Lucas to Waterland, where he plans to drown him. But as the day goes by and Gary teaches Lucas to swim, they end up bonding. Encouraged by their newfound relationship and an apparent sign from God, Gary changes his mind, saves the boy’s life and takes him for ice cream instead.
When Gary fails to kill Lucas, the local religious cult take it upon themselves to do it instead, kidnapping him and taking him to a church so they can kill him on hallowed ground. This results in a huge showdown teetering on the edge of a pit to hell, in which Gary, with the help of his stepdad support group, have to take on Satan himself to save Lucas.
The film makes clever use of a lot of tropes. It exaggerates the ridiculousness of such common plot points as sexual rituals in dark cults, by showing Gary react exactly as anyone in the real world would, while other characters are as oblivious as the first victim in a classic horror film.
The creepy child was very well cast. Owen Atlas, who plays Lucas, doesn’t speak for most of the film. This not only minimises the risk of bad child acting, but also makes good use of a skill that all children inherently have: standing around looking creepy. It helped that his hair and clothes have evidently been arranged to be reminiscent of Damien from The Omen.
Even when he did finally speak, the character was well written and played, making the metaphor for difficult relationships between step-parents and their new wards clear. Once he comes out of his shell, the little boy stops being quite so creepy and you come to realise that he probably was just a shy kid adjusting to having a scary new grown up barge into his life.
This revelation, which explicitly stated at the end, actually ends up being quite moving, as Gary encourages all the other stepdads to look beyond the frustrating things their kids do to find the sweet little people they are on the inside.
There are some aspects on this film that do leave you a little bit wanting. The female characters, for instance, could be better written. Most of the women seem to go through their lives completely oblivious to what their husbands and children are doing, with their reactions to things often somewhat clichéd. Samantha, Lucas’s mother, got a bit of redemption in the end when she knocks the priest who tried to kill her son straight into the pit to hell, but otherwise the female characters are a bit two dimensional.
Sometimes this is played for laughs, especially through Samantha. Of course, if your child buried someone alive, you wouldn’t shrug it off as them being a troubled, confused kid. That ignorance on the part of a lot of characters is what gives Gary’s experience so much tension.
However, it doesn’t mean that every woman needs to be quite so inattentive. There’s really no reason, for instance, that Gary’s support group had to be exclusively for stepfathers. There’s no reason that a new stepmother wouldn’t go through the same emotional journey as a stepfather and that women couldn’t just as easily relate to the plot if there was a character for them to identify with. It wouldn’t have affected the story all that much if it had been for stepparents in general and included a female character with some real personality and development.
The support group does serve a purpose in the plot, but a lot of its comedy comes from these stepdads saying horrible things about their children. It starts off with them complaining about understandably frustrating pranks the kids have played on them, but evolves into some comments that approach cruelty.
Later on, as the stepfathers are inspired by Gary and Lucas’s blossoming relationship to work harder on their own bonds with their kids, the memory of these comments do give the moment a more heart-warming feeling. But it can be a little bit uncomfortable at the time.
Generally, though, this film is pretty funny. It won’t give you a whole lot of food for thought, but it’s an enjoyable movie you can watch without too much strain on the brain.
The film’s goal of toying with the demon child horror sub-genre is absolutely met, not only giving horror fans plenty to tickle them, but also a surprisingly touching story.
Watch the trailer: