Little Evil (2017)

When I was a kid, my mom introduced me to the horror classics of her youth whenever I was fortunate enough to be left behind while my father went deer hunting. We watched Carrie, Halloween (which she and my dad had gone to see in the theaters on their first date, although he left halfway through and waited for her in the lobby), and one of her favorites, The Omen. In case there are any among you who have never seen it (and shame on you), The Omen stars Gregory Peck as an American diplomat whose child dies at birth; he is convinced to adopt a local orphan instead. He and his unwitting wife name the child Damien, and as the child grows he starts to suspect, correctly, that little Damien is the Antichrist. There were a few sequels (including one where the adult Damien, played by Sam Neill, is an American politician) and a remake released on the apropos date of 06/06/06.

Although the remake is one of the better revisitations and reimaginings of the early millennium (perhaps helped by the fact that I find both Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber to be quite charming), my new favorite follow-up is 2017’s Little Evil. Adam Scott plays Gary Bloom, the new husband of Samantha (Evangeline Lilly) and thus stepfather to Lucas (Owen Atlas), who dresses and acts just like Damien, including using a “goat” sock puppet to talk in a low demonic voice. Samantha is completely blind to (or hilariously complacent about) the blatantly supernatural events happening around her: bloody rain, flickering lights, the backwards speech of the priest at their wedding, even Lucas’s use of a compelling voice to tell his teachers to kill themselves.

Gary gets conflicting and terrible advice from the other stepfathers in his community, including Victor (Kyle Bornheimer), Wayne (Chris D’Elia), and Larry (Donald Faison). The best and worst of these is Al (Lady Dynamite‘s Bridget Everett), his co-worker and a woman so butch she considers herself to be a part of the stepdad community. Everett all but steals the show here; she’s hilarious, and her deadpan delivery of her lines about her own stepson and her relationship with the new wife are perfectly timed and exquisite. Rounding out the case are the always-welcome Sally Field as a social worker and Clancy Brown as Reverend Gospel, an end-times theologian.

After Lucas causes his birthday clown to set himself on fire, Child Protective Services gets involved just as Gary seeks out professional help, including the assistance of a demon hunter, just as in The Omen. But unlike The Omen, Little Evil evolves into a story about something else: fatherhood, and the need for good role models. The film ultimately makes a surprisingly heartwarming statement about the nature of paternity and the importance of love over biology.

The film is not without a few low points, of course. There is a bit of the film that drags in the middle, as it gets wrapped up in some of the typical dudebro lowbrow comedy that we’ve come to expect from directors like Judd Apatow, but director Eli Craig (who gave us the fantastic horror comedy/pastiche Tucker and Dale vs. Evil back in 2010) shifts back into gear pretty quickly after this, and the high points more than make up for the less-than-perfect moments. Lilly is also a high point of recommendation; embodied by another actress, Samantha might have come across as dim-witted or inept, but Lilly finds the perfect balance between defensive (but lovingly) maternal and comically missing the point.

Little Evil is a Netflix original, so it’s presumably not going anywhere soon. If I were you, I’d use the last days of January to watch as much Futurama as you can before it leaves the streaming platform at the end of the month. But when that’s done, go back and check out this easy-going comedy. And also, watch The Omen if you haven’t already, you Philistine!

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Krampus (2015)

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fourhalfstar

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When I first became aware of Michael Dougherty’s Krampus, I was ecstatic because I absolutely love Christmas horror films (Silent Night, Deadly Night, Gremlins, Santa’s Slay, etc.). What’s not to love about a film based on what is essentially the opposite of Santa? A demon that goes around punishing little brats that misbehave sounds like a good time to me. I got even more excited when I found out that Toni Collette, my all-time favorite actress, was playing a lead role in the film. This was a movie made for me, so needless to say, I had pretty high expectations. Thankfully, Krampus did not disappoint.

Other than it being a horror film about a murderous Christmas beast, one of the weirdest things about Krampus is that it made it to the big screen. Most Christmas horror movies go straight to DVD. I can’t even remember the last time a Christmas horror film was in theaters. It may have been the 2006 remake of Black Christmas, but I’m not quite sure. Anyway, it’s always a good sign when a campy movie makes it to theaters. Krampus brought in over $16,000,000 on its opening weekend, which is pretty impressive considering its campy reputation. Bad taste is alive and well!

The film begins with a hilarious but disturbingly truthful Black Friday scene that will give you all the feels. Bing Crosby’s “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” plays as a mob of greedy customers wreak havoc on a retail store. The audience in the movie theater gave out a few good laughs for this part, but a good bit of the crowd had on their “ain’t it the truth” face. Among the people in the retail store are the film’s main characters: husband/wife duo Tom (Adam Scott) and Sara (Toni Collette) and their 10-year-old son, Max (Emjay Anthony).

Max is old enough to know that Santa is not real, but there’s a part of him that just can’t give up on believing in Santa. It’s as though his belief in Santa represents his want to have a normal, enjoyable holiday with his family. Max’s German grandmother (Krista Stadler) is very supportive of his belief, and she encourages him to write a letter to Santa. He eventually becomes upset and rips up his Santa letter, throwing the pieces out of his bedroom window. By doing this, he unintentionally summons Krampus, but Krampus does not arrive to Max’s home alone. He brings a couple of demonic toys, gingerbread men, and elves with him, and they do most of the dirty work. And by “dirty work,” I mean that they execute most of the murders. The evil elves and possessed toys were actually pretty frightening, but the demonic gingerbread men were totally unnecessary. Actually, I can honestly say that they were the only reason I didn’t give this movie five stars. They were terrible! And not even in the good way.

Something that I noticed in Krampus was the abundance of tongue action. One of the demonic toys, which is an angel doll, uses its tongue while it attacks Sarah. This really gross, super thin tongue comes out of this creepy toy’s mouth, and it’s absolutely terrifying. Also, Krampus has a weird tongue thing going on as well. When he comes face to face with Max, he has a tongue very similar to the angel doll, and he licks the poor kid’s face. While all this was going on, I couldn’t help but think of Beth Grant tonguing that mannequin in September’s Movie of the Month, The Boyfriend School.

Krampus is definitely going into my traditional Christmas watchlist, along with Home Alone, A Christmas Story, and Miracle on 34th Street. It’s got the perfect balance of comedy and horror. There are times where you’ll be crying from laughter, but there will be times that you’ll come close to peeing your pants from fear.

-Britnee Lombas

Black Mass (2015)

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threehalfstar

What the hell has Johnny Depp been doing for the last decade? It used to be that every new Depp performance was worth getting excited about, but the last time I can remember being impressed with him was as the notorious reprobate John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester in 2004’s The Libertine. Everything since feels like a formless blur of pirates, Tontos, and CGI chameleons. No matter. Depp has returned to his past life as a solid, exciting actor in another formally middling biopic packed to the gills with great performances, Black Mass. With his receding hairline, hideous teeth, ever-present aviators & pinky rings, and eyes so grey-blue they almost make him look blind, Depp plays the infamous South Boston crimelord Whitey Bulger like a strange cross between Hunter S. Thompson & Nosferatu. It’s a measured, but menacing performance that proves Depp still has it in him to terrify & captivate, completely transforming beyond recognition & losing himself in his best role of the past decade.

The worst accusation that can be thrown at Black Mass is that it’s a little formally & narratively overfamiliar. The film doesn’t bring anything particularly fresh to the 70s-era organized crime drama format, calling to mind works from names like Brian De Palma, William Friedkin, and Martin Scorsese in nearly every scene. In fact, because of the thick Boston accents inherent to Whitey Bulger & The Winter Hill Gang it’s easy to pinpoint a specific point of reference in Scorsese’s oeuvre that Black Mass can be accused of being a little too reminiscent of: The Departed. Just know that if you’re looking forward to this film as a fan of that genre there’s not going to be long stretches of brutal violence & gunfire that usually accompany organized crime films. Black Mass has its moments of brutality, sure, limited mostly to bursts of fist to face sadism & quick bursts of assassination, but for the most part it’s a calm story of political intrigue. The movie is almost entirely focused on the real-life Bulger’s secretive “alliance” with the FBI that allowed the two agencies to work together to eradicate the Italian mafia from Boston, making room for Bulger to bloom from a small time crime boss into an all-powerful kingpin. Black Mass is concerned with the audio surveillance tapes, buried/forged paperwork, and back alley dealings with the federal government that allowed for Bulger’s rise to power much more than it is with his murderous deeds, which amount to exactly one onscreen shooting & two strangling on Depp’s bloody hands. Bulger is terrifying, but the threat he poses is more systemic than it is physical, making for a film that may have defied the more bloodthirsty expectations of its audience. I noticed quite a few viewers at our screening checking their cellphones in the second & third acts . . .

Any muted expectations I had for Black Mass based on its 70s-era crime drama familiarity (an aesthetic that somehow hilariously continues well into the 90s in the film’s timeline) were surpassed merely on the merit of its performances. Besides Depp’s horrifying, career-revitalizing turn as Whitey Bulger, there’s also great, unexpected screen presence from Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Dakota Johnson, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Sarsgaard, and, my personal favorite, Julianne Nichlson (who was fantastic in both Boardwalk Empire & Masters of Sex and whom I only want the best things for). This is an actor’s movie. The 70s crime pastiche is merely a backdrop for the absurdly talented cast’s parade of heavy Boston accents & emotional turmoil. The screenplay offers very little in terms of surprise. Of course Bulger is the kind of gangster that is gentle & neighborly with old ladies, but will have a man killed for threatening to punch him in a bar. Of course, despite his official status as a “top echelon informant”, he’s prone to saying things like, “I don’t consider this ratting or informing. This is business.” Of course, because this is a gangster movie, the script is a long procession of a million “fuck”s, one with just a few homophobic & anti-Italian slurs thrown in there for good measure. I consistently got the feeling that we’ve all seen this play out countless times before, but I still enjoyed it a great deal. Just as a particularly corrupt FBI agent justifies his involvement with Bulger as “a little white lie to protect the bigger truth”, Black Mass is a little, unassuming movie worthwhile for how it supports such a massive list of excellent performances, Depp’s return to form, believe it or not, being just one drop in the bucket.

-Brandon Ledet

The Overnight (2015)

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fourstar

Usually, filmmakers have a tendency to keep their dark comedy & their sex romps separate. Full-blown sex comedies are usually mindless entertainment more concerned with raunchy gags than existential contemplation & while a black comedy might lighten the mood with an occassional sexual diversion (last year’s sadistic Cheap Thrills comes to mind), it’s rare that sex is its main focus. Even the recent raunch fest Wetlands, which I absolutely loved, kept its dark streak separate from its hedonism, a difficult task for a movie mostly remembered for its ungodly volume of on-screen semen. There might be a reluctance in blending the sexual with the menacing both because it’s awkward to take sex seriously & because sexual menace is difficult to play for a laugh for reasons that should be more than obvious without explanation.

In The Overnight, we have a surprisingly successful homogeneous blend of the black comedy & the sex romp, one where both elements are fused together completely instead of played off each other for a contrasting effect. The movie strikes a consistently terrifying tone through its depiction of underhanded sexual coercion, but somehow never loses grasp of the sillier raunch tangents you’d expect in a typical sex comedy. The effect of this powerful combination is that the sex gags are twice as funny as they’d normally play, thanks to the way they relieve overbearing tension of the the film’s sexual menace. In a lot of ways The Overnight follows the typical party out of bounds story structure of classic black comedies like The Exterminating Angel & Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? where in-over-their-heads guests feel compelled to remain at a social function even though the mood has soured, but the four characters at the center of this particular party out of bounds & their surprising tenderness for each other are unique to the genre. It’s a very well-written example of a very familiar story that I have a huge soft-spot for.

Besides the deft balance & gradual escalation of the razor sharp script, The Overnight‘s strongest asset is its cast. Adam Scott & Taylor Schilling are fantastic as the befuddled North Westerners struggling to decide if their Los Angeles party hosts are just having a California-style good time or if they’re swingers trying to take their newfound friends to bed. Jason Schwartzman & Judith Godrèche steal the show as the film’s sexual menace, making both sly & overt sexual advances through maneuevers as simple as a hand on a knee and as ludicrous as an art studio packed with abstract paintings of buttholes. It’s difficult to decide through most of The Overnight whether the L.A. couple is taking advantage of their more uptight out-of-towners guests or if they’re apparent sweetness is genuine. The tension between those two competing readings is a great dynamic and both tones could be read in some of the film’s best scenes, like in a stoned, strobe-lit dance party or in a literal dick-measuring contest by the poolside. It’s a testament to the film’s effectiveness that what lingers in your mind after the credits is not the film’s individual sex gags, but rather the implications of the relationships that form between the film’s two central couples. It’s both an equally fun & terrifying experience, as well as a must-see for fans of Jason Schwartzman at his most mischievous.

-Brandon Ledet