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.
Watching this Australian rom-zom-com from director Abe Forsythe (Down Under), the question kept rattling around in my head; how the hell did he convince Lupita Nyong’o and Josh Gad to star in it? And that’s not a knock against the film, which is a perfectly serviceable comedy-horror jaunt, but simply that the logistical mechanics of this film existing in its final form are really quite bizarre.
Protagonist Dave (Alexander England) is a weed-loving man-child with dreams of becoming a professional musician, who was recently ditched by his girlfriend and is now forced to sleep on his sister’s sofa. But when taking his 5-year-old nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca) to school, he meets the charming, peppy Miss Caroline (Nyong’o) and is immediately smitten.
Dave quickly agrees to help Miss Caroline chaperone the class trip to a petting zoo, only for a nearby military installation to accidentally free a zombie horde into the surrounding area. Dave, Caroline and foul-mouthed children’s entertainer Teddy McGiggle (Gad) must then team up to protect their pint-sized charges from the blood-thirsty creatures.
If Little Monsters‘ title implied to you that this would be 90 minutes of Lupita Nyong’o fending off zombified children, I’ll let you down now; this isn’t that film at all, sadly. And if you’re a savvy genre fan craving an inventive, blood-soaked good time in the vein of Shaun of the Dead, this isn’t that film either.
Indeed, the red stuff is in shockingly short, even timid supply; the much-circulated image of Miss Caroline’s blood-soaked yellow sundress is actually caused by an event which occurs off-screen. And while the brief bursts of gore are convincing enough in isolation, they’re not terribly creative. But what Forsythe’s film lacks in true invention, it compensates for considerably with its infectiously charming personality, girded by a string of fun one-liners and, best of all, three knowing lead performances.
Aussie actor England makes for a likeably roughshod slacker lead, even if the film is categorically wrestled away by its two Hollywood attractions. Nyong’o proves impeccably cast as the luminous, irrepressibly cheery Miss Caroline, her sunny disposition and penchant for playing Taylor Swift songs on the ukulele allowing her to display an uncommon amount of on-screen warmth.
This is juxtaposed hilariously with her disgust at the initial onset of the zombie shenanigans, and though her eventual turn to Badass in a Yellow Sundress probably could’ve been played for stronger laughs, it’s evocative all the same. Better still, she’s in the film a whole lot more than you might expect given her fame and schedule, with precious little effort made to cut around her.
Giving by far the film’s most effervescent performance, however, is Josh Gad, as a gobby, sex-addicted kids’ TV host whose composure is almost immediately obliterated once the zombies show up, dropping F-bombs left and right in front of the kids while seeking to keep number one safe above all else.
While at first Gad’s performance – or rather, his character – might seem a bit one-note as a singular loud-mouth, an hilarious mid-film aside reveals a more depressing inner-truth which informs the remainder. Most importantly, Gad commits totally to the part, even if he most likely had a limited schedule given how often he’s conveniently shuttled out of the movie for entire scenes at a time.
The central trio and La Torraca’s incredulous young lead work hard enough that it’s relatively easy to forgive the stock plotting; the loser using a zombie catastrophe to fix his life, the inevitable romantic subplot, and all manner of manufactured peril. The inclusion of a Day of the Dead-style military detour feels like B-roll footage intended to pad the whole out to feature length, though.
The pic’s pervading sweetness ultimately does a lot for it, not layering the sentiment on too thickly, with Dave’s internal anguish well-realised and leading to a genuinely poignant third-act heart-to-heart. A later invocation of a certain Neil Diamond classic might prove one treacly spoonful too far, though.
Overly broad as a rom-zom-com and surprisingly low on quality gore, Little Monsters nevertheless succeeds as a zany, genre-tinged character comedy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.