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February 23, 2013

Satan’s Little Helper

by Franz Patrick


Satan’s Little Helper (2004)
★ / ★★★★

Doug (Alexander Brickel) is obsessed with a video game where it is the character’s mission to help Satan create chaos. The player earns points by hurting or killing people in hand-to-hand combat or using available inanimate objects. On Halloween, Doug meets a man in a Satan costume (Joshua Annex). The naive boy watches Satan murder people but is far from disturbed by what he sees. He actually wants to be a part of the killing spree.

“Satan’s Little Helper,” written and directed by Jeff Lieberman, has a unique premise but its lack of solid footing with its tone makes the story feel cheap and forced. The film might have worked either as a take-no-prisoner horror film, a very dark morbid comedy, or both. Unfortunately, it seems abashed to embrace the extremes, even in parts, so it ends up being boring and barely watchable. While I was tickled during the scenes in which Satan and the little boy knock over a pregnant woman and a blind person with a shopping cart (after putting a courtesy clerk in the dumpster), such high emotions are few and far between.

The kills lack genuine scares. For instance, when Satan grabs an unsuspecting person and drags him into an alley, it is like watching a wannabe thug with no prior experience of real violence. The result is comedic. Instead, we are subjected with an extremely slow exposition where Doug’s sister, Jenna (Katheryn Winnick), whom the boy claims he wants to marry, visits home from college with a new beau (Stephen Graham) in tow. As twisted as it is, it might have been interesting to watch Doug expressing his blossoming sexuality and feelings toward his sister. Because then there could have been a connection between a boy’s unrequited psychosexual yearnings and thirst for violence.

The writer-director chooses not to explore that angle and I wondered why. It feels like he is either stuck creatively or has decided to rest on familiar elements commonly found in bad made-for-TV scary movies to make the work more digestible. With such an inspiring premise, it is natural to expect the material to take it one step further with its story and undertones.

Jenna is supposed to be Doug’s savior because she is his big sister. It is difficult to root for her because, not unlike the big-breasted blondes who die early in slasher films, she is annoying and lacks common sense. For instance, she decides to leave her brother alone in the house, after someone has just been found brutally murdered inside, to go look for help. The killer might still be in the house. Would it have been too much to grab his hand and go next door together?

“Satan’s Little Helper” is an underachiever and runs about thirty minutes too long. It is a really bad sign when at some point I wanted to pay more attention to the extras’ costumes than the events that are happening. I prefer to watch a film that strives to be something different and fails than a film that does not try at all. At least with the former, I am less inclined to feel like my time has been stolen.

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