Little Monsters, 2019.
Written and Directed by Abe Forsythe.
Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Josh Gad, Alexander England, Nadia Townsend, Kat Stewart, Diesel La Torraca, and Stephen Peacocke.
A washed-up musician teams up with a teacher and a kids show personality to protect young children from a sudden outbreak of zombies.
Zombies come into existence along the way during Little Monsters, but they are not the focal point and writer/director Abe Forsythe’s film is all the better off for it. Yes, the story inevitably transitions into a tale of survival, but not without expanding on the characters and consistently revealing new details about their lives, and of course, evolving them as the story goes on. It’s more broad comedy than action or horror (if Neon were a larger distributor this could easily do decent business at mainstream cinemas), with Abe Forsythe demonstrating full control over the tone, especially as he gets subversive performances of his actors.
Before everyone’s lives are endangered, Little Monsters starts off like a raunchy comedy centered on a full-blown manchild to the extent where some viewers might sense some false advertisement, even if the proceedings are inappropriately hilarious. Dave (Alexander England) is in a failing relationship where audiences see the cause of the breakup over an opening credits montage, and it’s very obvious he only has his childish behavior to blame. His heavy metal band has faded away (it never really kicked off in the first place), he has no ambition, choosing to sit around smoking pot and masturbating with virtual reality goggles, and goes past the point of redemption by repeatedly refusing to commit to marriage or having a child. These 20 minutes, most importantly, do an excellent job of finding humor in a foul person that is somewhat unlikeable although means well.
Staying with his sister, Dave is sort of beaten into observing the loving bond between her and his nephew Felix. So much so, that he gets the comically brilliant idea to propose to his ex-girlfriend using the help of grade-school aged Felix (Diesel La Torraca, putting in relatively strong work that is key to the majority of the emotional beats landing) donning a Darth Vader Halloween costume. Without spoiling it, the filmmakers also continue to make awesome usage of their Star Wars permission. Nevertheless, the proposal doesn’t go so well, but as Dave is helping around his sister by driving Felix to school, he takes a liking to Miss Caroline, the breathtakingly beautiful kindergarten teacher played by Lupita Nyong’o.
It also just so happens that a field trip to an Australian park replete with activities (petting zoos, put-put golf, and more) is coming up with a spot available for a guardian to tag along and assist. Now, these two characters have nothing in common; Caroline is a Christian and Dave fronts a death metal band, one of them naturally has a passion for brightening the lives of children while the other assumes a disabled kid is the R-word (I will let you guess which is which), and Dave is just generally too profane and dimwitted for a woman with agency and a good head on her shoulders like Caroline to even remotely consider going on a date.
Upon arriving at the destination, Australian children’s TV show host Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad, putting an over-the-top spin on his family-friendly performance tics, resembling Frozen‘s Olaf if he was a selfish sex addict) is on-hand to boost fun for the kids. From there on out, it’s not long before the zombies escape a nearby laboratory, causing everyone’s true colors to come out amidst deadly panic. Smartly, Little Monsters is about one man developing the courage to be a father figure, while a sweet kindergarten teacher reflects on her life up until this point coming to an understanding of how important these kids and job is to her, effectively having her platonic love strengthened and given greater meaning. Rather than crack under the pressure and contribute to a terrifying environment, she reassures the kids (as they hide in a gift store) that it’s all a game, always willing to sing a song (Lupita Nyong’o also has one angelic singing voice) and be the voice of reason. Stained in blood and guts? Not a problem, as she explains why with silly and adorable imagination. Josh Gad is also humanized (the film briefly explores his flaws) in what is actually one of the film’s best moments.
The only frustrating aspect is that Abe Forsythe doesn’t really come up with anything interesting when it comes to zombie encounters other than making Miss Caroline capable of handling her own, engaging in most of the combat. Not only is it rare to see a woman in such a position for this genre, but there is also the feeling that unlike her male counterparts across movies, Miss Caroline is more resourceful and calculative, usually remaining on defense versus unnecessarily battling the undead for badass points. It’s more about keeping one’s distance as if we are watching someone play a survival horror video game. Still, the film succumbs to a number of predictable clichés (some character-related and some zombie-action related), mildly taking away from its dramatic effect.
Surprisingly, all of the children play their part well and never come across as annoying, which is vital considering Little Monsters sends a message of how much children should be appreciated, and how there are other things to be afraid of then bringing them into the world. From the juvenile humor to the varied musical numbers to its handling of key characters, Little Monsters is winningly charming. Just don’t expect an outstanding zombie movie, but do expect an outstanding film with different priorities.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com