Satan's Little Helper (2004)

If you're worried that violent computer games might be rotting the brains of the people who play them, this film will only make you even more convinced that teaching kids to kill people onscreen for fun is a bad idea.

Satan's Little Helper is about Dougie, a strange little boy who's obsessed with playing a computer game of the same title, in which the player aids Satan by killing people and generally wreaking havoc. He's also obsessed with his older sister, who's coming home from college to visit, especially to take her brother trick-or-treating. So far, so good - except that the older sister has brought her boyfriend home with her. Determined to rid himself of his rival for her affections, Dougie sets out to find Satan and become his helper - in exchange for Satan taking the unwanted boyfriend to Hell, clearing the way for his incestuous fantasies about his sister to continue.

It's a weird premise for a movie, and it's quite a weird movie. Most of the film plays out in sunlight, and every scene is excessively bright and colourful. It's a really good-looking film for the most part, especially considering the budgetary restraints. Visually, then, it doesn't look like your average horror movie. Structurally, it's even more bizarre, and tonally... well, you can imagine.

For the first part of the film, the silliness and the horror are nicely balanced. When Dougie heads out to the costume shop with his sister's boyfriend and returns hand in hand with a masked stranger, his sister and mother don't notice that anything's amiss. Their daft role-play and incessant picture-taking is funny, because the mask looks so absurd, and also just because it's funny, but because we as viewers know that underneath that mask is a serial killer, it's also uncomfortable to watch. Seeing a lovestruck young girl cosying up to a man she thinks is her boyfriend, but who is actually a murderer, makes your skin crawl. And it's great. But that delicate balance doesn't last. Before long, the masked 'Satan's' killing spree starts to seem ridiculous, and the fact that Dougie continues to think it's all a game starts to become irritating - surely no child could be that stupid?

The camel's back finally breaks when 'Satan' kills all of the town's policemen, causing complete chaos as law and order breaks down. Even on Halloween, even without any law enforcers at hand, would people really start killing each other and looting everything in sight? It's obviously not a film overly concerned with realism, but the creepiness relies on the silliness not getting too out of hand. As soon as the balance tips too far into absurdity, the film loses most of its appeal.

Ultimately, Satan's Little Helper should have been about 20 minutes shorter, because the perfect ending presents itself ... and then everything carries on for a bit longer. The actual ending is completely unsatisfying, which is really disappointing given how strongly the film started off. In terms of originality and style, Satan's Little Helper scores highly, but by the end, too many superfluous characters have been introduced and everything has just gotten completely out of hand. Shame.

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