Little Monsters, 2019.
Directed by Abe Forsythe.
Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Josh Gad, Alexander England, Kat Stewart, Stephen Peacocke, Henry Nixon, Felix Williamson, Nadia Townsend, and Marshall Napier.
When perennial man-child and failed musician Dave (Alexander England) decides to use his nephew’s petting-zoo field-trip as a way of getting close to his teacher (Lupita Nyong’o), he wasn’t counting on there being a sudden outbreak of zombies at the neighbouring research facility.
The audible groan at the prospect of watching yet another undead offering, let alone a zom-com, so soon after Jim Jarmusch’s disposable The Dead Don’t Die, is as deafening as those first spectres who shuffled towards Barbara in Night of the Living Dead, launching a slowly moving sub-genre towards today’s zombie saturation. Fear not. Such preconceptions will dissipate within minutes of Abe Forsythe’s infectiously fun comedy: if the moans haven’t turned into smiles during the in-your-face argument montage of the opening credits, then by the time Lupita Nyong’o strums Taylor Swift on her ukulele, you’ll be fixed with a perma-grin.
Little Monsters isn’t a film that’s going to be layered with nuanced subtext like its forebearers. Instead you’ll get answers to important questions like “What would happen if a zombie ate a porcupine?”, “How would a fully-suited zombiefied koala mascot behave?”, or a throwaway line on the silliness of the whole fast vs. slow zombie debate. It’s a film oozing with irrepressible charm, so-much-so that you forgive things like the fact that Lupita Nyong’o’s character is called Miss Caroline, solely for the purpose of a wonderful final-reel payoff.
While we’re on the subject of the blood-splattered Nyong’o, she backs up her year’s best, similarly-stained performance in Us, with a knowing turn in which she gets to successfully flex her comedic chops, as-well-as kicking ass and taking names. The script’s greatest strength, aside from the hordes of zingers, is the way that it repositions her character from the object of affection for our lovable-loser protagonist, to being the straight-up hero of the film. She rocks.
Having said that, Little Monsters focus really is on Dave, with Alexander England channelling the spirit of Jack Black, and in doing so walking a narratively requisite fine-line between annoying and adorable. His engage mouth before brain approach, especially when interacting with his nephew (Diesel La Torraca), provides some of the films biggest laughs, and goes some way to making his own transformation into caring Uncle and reluctant leader surprisingly weighty, especially considering the knockabout tone.
The only major misstep is Josh Gad as an obnoxious children’s entertainer caught up in this outback apocalypse, who dials his performance up to eleven and never lets up. There’s nothing particularly wrong with his Teddy McGiggle, it’s just so at odds with the inherent sweetness of the remainder of the film that it gets quite jarring. However, if we didn’t have his character then you wouldn’t get the sight of zombie puppet frog (you read that right) attacking people, and that’s something you don’t want to miss.
A surprise welcome addition to the increasingly fatigued zombie sub-culture, Little Monsters is another string in the bow of MVP Lupita Nyong’o, and while it doesn’t do anything remarkable or new, it remains one of the most joyously entertaining films of the year.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt