Most films are relatively easy to write and talk about, usually. As a horror critic, I cherish the opportunity to write about the genre. Horror has the ability to be a transgressive and powerful force...
...So, this is the hard part: I have very little to say about Matt Green’s feature-length film Evil Little Things, which was written by Yasmin Bakhtiari (who provides a voice in the film) and Nancy Knight (who is also in the film) and “stars” Zach Galligan in the role of a lifetime - “Stepdad,” who takes up probably a total of 2 mins of screen time, and that is being generous. What follows is my best attempt to review something that just barely exists for its whole runtime, which is the biggest problem, in an anthology film about evil little things, in this case, two dolls, who aren’t particularly scary, and three stories, with exception of one, that rarely rise above the murkiness of just existing. Evil Little Things could have been so much bigger, and the potential is there, it just sort of sadly goes through the motions for most of its run time.
A boy named Jason (Mason Wells), like so many kids his age, is afraid of the monsters in his room. This fear is met sympathetically by his mother (L.A Winters) and with anger by the aforementioned Stepdad (Zach Galligan). Galligan delights in the role of a jerk, which is nice to see, as many will remember him from his role as Billy in the Gremlins franchise. However, as I mentioned in the beginning of this review, he’s barely in the film. It’s a real shame because it feels like he’s being heavily marketed in the promotion of the film, so if you are going to watch this because of his inclusion, be prepared for his very small set up at the beginning and his subsequent minute of screen time at the end. Jason and his mom go to a toy store to get a new toy that will protect Jason as he sleeps. It’s a touching thought, but is used as a device to get the other stories in motion and doesn’t carry any additional weight. Due to it being thrust into the center of the narrative, there is no way an audience can bond with these characters because, by the time Jason finds a burnt leprechaun doll, we are heading into another story.
The narrator of these tales is the toymaker, creepily played by Geoff McKnight, who, in full transparency would make me leave and take my child to another toy store. He sets things in motion, and from then on this film seems to set itself on autopilot. The destination is far more important than delivering anything of substance. Films like this work a bit better when the journey is the focus. That said: McKnight excels in his role and, much like Galligan, is severely underutilized.
The first and by far lesser of the two stories is about a curse and a leprechaun named Patrick O’Malley. As you might expect from that premise alone, it’s cliched and full of nonsensical stuff about a gold rush in Georgia and of course, leprechauns' well-documented penchant for gold. There’s not much to fear in this chapter aside from a bit where O’Malley keeps moving from where he was placed. In fact, that’s about as horrifying and remotely dreadful as the scares get. The problem here is way too much of the screen time is spent on exposition and building a piece about a family that is away from their father. Theirs is in Ireland on a business trip, and they are left at their new home, which, conveniently, is a place from the mother’s childhood and thereby her connection to the doll and the gold rush from years past. In addition to the haphazard story, Patrick’s design just isn’t that great or well thought out. Here is the thing, I’ve watched this segment three times for this review, and each time it diminishes what little return it has. I hope someone finds something of value in this section, but I am left searching for it. I will say this, it’s adequately shot, and far from a disaster, it’s just by far the weaker of the two stories that Evil Little Things attempts to tell.
The second story, and by far the strongest piece of the whole feature is a tale about a doll named Patty who was damaged in an accident along with its owner Abby (Courtney Lakin) who provides the best performance in the whole film. She is a loner who collects dolls and takes them to conventions. However, Patty does not like anyone else getting Abby’s attention. When Abby creates an Abby doll so she can be beautiful again, Patty goes insane and all hell breaks loose. It’s a well-crafted piece and executed with the technical precision of the previous entry. Matt Green certainly knows how to frame shots. The difference here is that the story matters because you get invested in the characters early on, and that is most likely due to the strength of Lakin’s acting.
The third and final entry in the film resumes the story where we began; The kid, his Stepdad, and mom. Once again, we end with him being afraid, but there is a twist!! I will let the viewer discover it on their own. It’s an enjoyable one, but without the connection to the characters, it is hard to feel the worth of its inclusion, aside from a clear cut way to end the flick.
All in all, I guess I wish Evil Little Things was more in line with other anthology films of years past such as Trick R’ Treat, where the movie’s thread weaves itself into powerful, connected stories. The talent is there for Matt Green, and both screenwriters excel at various moments, so I will look at this as a stepping stone in the right direction.
Evil Little Things is now available on DVD/Digital from Uncork’d Entertainment.
By Justin Drabek
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