Abe Forsythe’s sunny comedy about two people protecting a class of five-year-olds from a zombie outbreak adds more variety to a lively subgenre.
Little Monsters is about a zombie outbreak that just happens to kick off right next to a kids’ petting zoo. That description might either put you right off the film or draw you right in, depending on your taste: I found it hilarious, right from the start, and for me, horror-comedy is very hit-and-miss.
Yup, right from the start, which – in the circumstances – was especially surprising. The opening was a montage of a couple fighting in many different settings, presented to music. But that montage was so full of familiar images that – like the opening to Krampus in a department store – it felt knowing and funny in an I’ve-been-there way. Little Monsters is full of those moments. The couple breaks up, Dave (Alexander England) goes to stay with his sister, and the story begins.
Dave’s sister Tess (Kat Stewart) adores her brother and insists he pulls his weight around the home, not just lie on the sofa and dream of his band getting back together. He offers to take Tess’s five-year-old son Felix (the remarkable Diesel La Torraca) to school… where he meets – and is utterly smitten by – the kindergarten teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o). So when he discovers later that the class is short one chaperone for the next day’s outing, Dave naturally volunteers. Miss Caroline, Dave, and the children are quite ignorant of the US Military Testing Facility located just a stone’s throw away from the kids’ attraction, and how risky the “subjects” are there.
So there you have it: one grown-up who adores kids, one grown-up who adores her, and a mini-bus full of little kids versus soldiers, farmhands and tourists turned into zombies. Throw in an egotistical children’s TV celebrity Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), and you have an absolutely sweary Australian riot of a film. There are some subtle themes, of course, to do with responsibility and growing up; but Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters doesn’t bother with too much seriousness or sentiment: it’s damn good entertainment with memorable characters.
We’ve known for a while what talent and range Lupita Nyong’o has, but this film still managed to be eye-opening: soothing her class with “Shake It Off” on the ukulele one minute, and beheading zombies with a shovel the next, Nyong’o was a joy to behold. But what made Little Monsters stand out from other zombie comedies was the children; not creepy kids or vicious kids, but genuinely sweet and authentic children. Their dialogue and characters are believable, and yet some of their action is so bizarre it can almost be true (dressing as Darth Vader to boost confidence, or attacking zombies with a pitch-and-putt mallet).
Unlike one or two other critics, I do not consider Little Monsters to be “just another romzomcom”. It has its own character, and its own comedic tone (especially when contrasting innocence with violence). There are a few romantic zombie comedies out there, of course, but there is such breadth of style that there’s no harm adding another one to the subgenre, especially a well made and well acted one. Little Monsters is nothing like Night of the Living Deb or Warm Bodies, for example (except for there being a few zombies and a little romance and some humour): they are not all one type, any more than all vampire films are one type.
Little Monsters debuts exclusively on Hulu on October 11, 2019.