The Little Things

The Little Things ★★★

A slow-burn serial killer saga that leans into genre clichés like they haven’t been bludgeoned to death yet, John Lee Hancock’s “The Little Things” isn’t just set in 1990, it was also written in 1990. And it wasn’t just written in 1990, it still feels like it could’ve been made then, too — an unambiguous positive at a time when most straight-to-streaming fare is so cheap and glossy that it makes 20th century shlock like “Kiss the Girls” and “The Bone Collector” feel like Visconti movies by comparison.

But really it’s “Se7en” that comes to feel like the most obvious antecedent of all, even if that epochal hit came out a few years after Hancock first hatched the idea for this one. Here is another vivid, patient, character-driven psychological thriller that sees its A-list cast as a license to subvert audience expectations, prioritize the detectives over the murderer they’re trying to catch, and offer a gruesomely dark vision of the world that focuses its lens on how the light gets in.

If a journeyman like Hancock (“The Blind Side,” “The Founder”) doesn’t grip this story with the Fincher-like stranglehold its subject demands — and his script relies on a moral disorder that it doesn’t always have the language to define — “The Little Things” is nevertheless held aloft by the gravitational pull of its star power and sustained by the sheer delight of watching Hollywood take itself as seriously as it did in the days before “product” curdled into “content.” Denzel Washington is still big — it’s the screens that got small.