In the early to mid 2010s, there was a trend for ‘things vs zombies’ movies – pitting unlikely groups against the undead, ranging from credible efforts like Cockneys Vs Zombies and Scouts Vs Zombies (later renamed as Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse) to more fringe-level titles including Milfs Vs Zombies and Bigfoot Vs Zombies. Little Monsters isn’t exactly ‘teachers vs zombies’, but it does use a similar sort of juxtaposition as its weapon of choice. And while it’s elevated above the ‘unlikely sub-group vs undead horde’ trope by the cast, the script and the pervasive sweetness of the whole thing, the scenes where a lovely school teacher fights a swathe of the infected are the least interesting bits.
Our protagonist is Dave (Alexander England), a wastrel musician dossing around his reluctant sister’s house after a breakup with his girlfriend. In a painfully obvious attempt to hit on his nephew’s kindergarten teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o), Dave volunteers to act as a chaperone on a class trip to a petting zoo. But not long after they arrive, an accident at a local facility unleashes a mass of flesh-hungry monsters – leaving useless Dave, resourceful Miss Caroline and a deeply obnoxious kids’ entertainer who goes by Teddy McGiggles (Josh Gad) to protect the class.
Little Monsters deliberately attempts to flip character types on their head. The handsome, strong male is a complete liability who almost causes the death of his nephew. The children’s entertainer is a sex pest who swears like a docker and hates kids. And the ukulele-playing, Taylor Swift-loving school mistress turns into a Terminator-like zombie slayer when her charges are at risk. It brings a fresh flavour to a tired genre, though it does mean the movie’s main character arc is one borrowed from a different subgenre – that of the useless bloke who finds redemption through time spent with a good woman.
Zombie shenanigans aside, though, Little Monsters is more like a funny, horror-y take on Oscar-winning 1997 movie Life Is Beautiful, switching out Nazis for zombies as the grown-ups endeavour to keep the children from freaking out by trying to convince them the whole situation is a game (a blood-drenched Miss Caroline’s assertions that she’s just come back from a jam fight is a fine example).
A celebration of selflessness in the face of catastrophe, making even the apocalypse seem kind of fun via group renditions of ‘Shake It Off’, it’s very difficult not to fall for Little Monsters despite its predictable narrative beats. And Nyong’o is an absolute delight. Showing she’s got great comic timing and a knack for action, the Oscar-winner turns this indie comedy into something more than just another zombie movie. England as Dave is charismatic enough, and has strong enough chemistry with Nyong’o to pull off the redemption arc without it becoming tiresome, and there’s fun to be had with Gad’s relentlessly awful McGiggles, too.
This is Australian writer/director Abe Forsythe’s second feature after crime comedy Down Under, which didn’t get a theatrical release in the UK but picked up awards at Fantastic Fest. Little Monsters premiered at Sundance and played the London Film Festival so, despite the fact that it’s already available on Hulu, the film is generating good buzz. An excellent showcase for Forsythe, proving he can handle character comedy, action, VFX and pathos while working with big-name actors as well as animals and children, we’d expect to hear big things from him in the future.
Little Monsters might be a good-natured if generic zombie comedy at first glance, but as a whole, it’s more than it’s undead parts.
Little Monsters is in UK cinemas and on Sky Cinema from 15 November.
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