EVIL LITTLE THINGS (2020)

Evil Little Things.jpg

Studio:      Uncork¡¯d Entertainment
Director:    Matt Green
Writer:      Yasmin Bakhtiari, Nancy Knight
Producer:  Yasmin Bakhtiari, Nancy Knight, Matt Green, Roman J.C. Weaver, Annie Carter, Cristin Azure
Stars:     Zach Galligan, Hannah Fierman, Courtney Hogan, Courtney Lakin, Jonathan Horne, Geoff McKnight, L.A. Winters

Review Score:

50.jpg

Summary:

A strange toymaker tells a boy and his mother two frightening tales involving haunted dolls.


Synopsis:     

Review:

Contrary to how it can seem like I only ever slam small indie horror, I actually crave finding forgivable lo-fi frights that hearken back to the heyday of Full Moon Features before they became a sewer of cut-and-paste crap. B-movies have progressed, or rather regressed, to a point where a film like ¡°Subspecies¡± would be comparatively spectacular according to contemporary DTV standards. Understanding expectations have to be dialed back accordingly, e.g. something shot on a consumer camera in an apartment is more likely than something shot on film in Romania, I go into even the dinkiest films with a scale that slides to measurement units appropriate for the effort.

I did that for ¡°Evil Little Things,¡± which might explain why I shrugged off its cheapness instead of being angry about it. Footage has that distinctive washed-out flatness of low-grade digital video. Handheld camerawork becomes especially evident in shaky insert shots where no one wanted to spend ten seconds stabilizing on a tripod to record a three-second cutaway. ¡°Evil Little Things¡± doesn¡¯t look sloppy per se, but definitely shows some burn of being in a hurry to get out the door.

Its trailer warned it would be the type of bargain production I normally abhor if I don¡¯t avoid it to begin with. I put my head down and went in anyway because I still had a hankering for the simplicity of killer doll kookiness. I shouldn¡¯t be surprised that what I found was something closer to the homemade horror of ¡°Robert the Doll¡± than the kitschy creeps of ¡°Puppet Master.¡±

Two of the movie¡¯s key hooks are the promise of an anthology and an appearance by ¡°Gremlins¡± star Zach Galligan, misspelled in end credits as ¡°Zack.¡± If such prospects intrigue you too, let me dunk those hopes in hot lava.

¡°Evil Little Things¡± really only includes two chapters, each running in the neighborhood of 40 minutes. The wraparound goes by in the blink of an eye, serving only to set up a stinger ripped right out of ¡°Creepshow.¡± Galligan unconvincingly features in these bookends as an inexplicably abusive stepfather who predictably gets his comeuppance from a cursed clown doll.

I¡¯d wager gold bullion to dust motes that Galligan shot his sixty seconds of screen time in the same span it took to order and receive a pizza Galligan probably didn¡¯t stick around to eat. He also seems to be on the verge of smirking the entire time, as he too can¡¯t believe he was cast in a throwaway role 2,000 miles outside of his wheelhouse.

The formal framing device follows a mother and son visiting a small town toyshop. The doll maker there tells tales of a burned leprechaun toy and an antique doll with a broken face. The toymaker/storyteller is of course creepy, but mostly because he comes with an uncomfortable child molester vibe. Usually these characters are eccentric old coots or occult weirdos warped by some sinister knowledge. This guy has fogged glasses, hair matted with greasy sweat, and too many teeth to his leering smile. He looks like he just emerged from his dungeon after triggering an FBI trap on a dark web chatroom.

¡°Blood for Gold¡± centers on Jess, a horror novelist who just moved back to her great-grandmother¡¯s old Georgian home. Her two children have already heard schoolyard rumors about murderous leprechauns haunting the house. Jess dismisses such notions as nonsense, even after her childhood friend drops by to remind her of an encounter they once had with one of the little green goons. Jessica¡¯s memory jostles again when a leprechaun doll shows up on her doorstep. She¡¯s not sure what it means, but soon uncovers a connection to a hidden hatch in her fireplace and a family secret Nanna never warned her about.

¡°Blood for Gold¡± drags due to forcibly fitting inside almost half of the movie¡¯s total duration, which is twice as much time as it needs. Scenes consist of Jess shooting stares in the doll¡¯s direction, half-heartedly doing housework like only a semi-interested actress could, and other extended shots of not much that matters in any way, shape, or form.

Hannah Fierman becomes the stretched segment¡¯s saving grace. Meaningless material makes Jess a conduit for empty reactions rather than a fully defined figure. Maybe it¡¯s the transfixing gaze from her wide eyes, but there¡¯s something to Fierman¡¯s presence causing her to be oddly captivating even when her character doesn¡¯t do anything essential. As much as stodgy staging tried to lose my interest, Fierman somehow wouldn¡¯t let that happen, forcing me to keep eyes trained on her mundane movements lest I risk missing a sudden moment of import.

Like its counterpart, ¡°Be Careful What You Wish For¡± squeaks by on the strength of its leading lady, Courtney Lakin. Because the doll designs are too silly to be scary, the seriousness with which Fierman and Lakin play their parts counterbalances campiness. Slender roles like theirs don¡¯t tax anyone¡¯s acting skills. But don¡¯t underestimate the minor advantages a professional performer with actual experience, even limited, can bring to a DIY feature. Fierman and Lakin may not be big names, but they¡¯re better than the unknown entities of amateurs, roommates, and family friends usually populating backyard pap. Nowadays, casting someone with bona fide credits automatically counts for extra credit.

¡°Be Careful What You Wish For¡± casts Lakin as Abby, an attractive nerd whose facial disfigurement turned her into an introvert. Abby¡¯s best friend is her similarly scarred doll Patty. Patty seems to be sentient, yet whether that¡¯s the product of something supernatural or a dissociative extension of Abby¡¯s fractured imagination remains to be seen.

We find out what¡¯s really up when Abby attends a sad pop culture convention where only five people wear costumes. ¡°Evil Little Things¡± finally escapes from cramped houses for a trip to a convention center and hotel, but cosplay extras were apparently not part of that package. Anyway, Abby runs into an old boyfriend with a mutual interest in rekindling their romance, but Patty doesn¡¯t appreciate the idea of someone breaking their bizarre bond.

At a technical level, ¡°Evil Little Things¡± doesn¡¯t look great. I¡¯d comment on some awful audio mixing, abrupt editing, and sudden shifts in color timing except the instances were so bad, I wonder if they were streaming glitches or issues with the screener. If you don¡¯t see the same ugliness in the commercial cut, never mind.

However, ¡°Evil Little Things¡± puts a great deal of backstory into both pieces. ¡°Blood for Gold¡± loads up on the usual lore about leprechauns and their gold while throwing in more nuggets about secret mines, hidden keys, and horrible family history. ¡°Be Careful What You Wish For¡± knocks into interesting themes about dual personalities and psychological scars.

What I¡¯m getting at is, even though the film¡¯s visual appearance lacks luster, the two main actresses do what they can to sell stories stocked with a surprising amount of development. That¡¯s more than most movies have at this level so I¡¯m willing to give ¡°Evil Little Things¡± a possibly generous 50/100 for at least not kneecapping plotting. That doesn¡¯t necessarily mean I think you should watch the film, unless it¡¯s just on in the background while you crush candies or whatever on your phone.

Review Score: 50