Little Monsters (UK / Australia / USA / 16 / 94 mins)
In short: A little Aussie ripper
Directed by Abe Forsythe. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Josh Gad, Alexander England, Diesel La Torraca.
The Plot: Dave (Alexander England) is a born loser. His band broke up years ago. His stormy relationship with his girlfriend is coming to an end, due to his inability to branch out from his inner manchild and actually want children. He’s not exactly fond of the little monsters either, but looks after his nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca) when called upon by his sister. When he brings Felix to school one day, he becomes charmed by his teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o). She’s a glass of sunshine compared to his gloomy disposition. They’re going to need some optimism though, as a day out at a zoo turns into a zombie outbreak from a nearby U.S. Army Research Facility. As the zombies close in, they’ll have to find a way to get themselves and the kids out. However, smarmy children’s entertainer Teddy (Josh Gad) isn’t going to make this sticky situation any easier…
The Verdict: There’s an old saying in the film industry. Don’t work with children or animals… and perhaps zombies. All three are present in Little Monsters, a riotously entertaining Australian comedy-horror that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The slightly perverse idea of mixing all three together and somehow having the actors keep a straight face and maintaining a consistent tone is a challenge to any horror director. This at times wacky film is the brainchild of Australian writer/director Abe Forsythe. His script is loaded with a childlike simplicity, the kind that might have appeared in his younger self’s brain while watching Night Of The Living Dead late at night without his parents’ permission.
The actual inspiration for the film came from his own son Spike’s first day at kindergarten. Just add zombies, a washed-up musician and a Willy Wonka-like children’s entertainer who doesn’t actually like children… and hey presto. You’re on to a winner. There’s plenty of Romero Zombie action in this story, often used to hilarious effect – like the zombies trailing just behind a slow-moving tractor. In tribute to George A. Romero himself, the zombies even have a bit of personality and a pack mentality. They were human once after all. However, the zombies are more like a circling flesh-eating threat than an overpowering force here. Forsythe is more interested in the character dynamics between his trio of well-written leads.
Miss Caroline has boundless optimism, a strong protective instinct and is a dab hand at the zombie killing business. Dave needs to face up to his failures as a man, but gradually comes to like children and proves to be resourceful. Teddy is outwardly confident and beloved by his pint-sized audience but is actually a rotten, foul-mouthed coward who despises children. The character arcs are neatly carved out over the course of the film. The way they interact with each other and the endangered children is a source of constant bemusement, but it’s done in a way that is palatable in a horror comedy. The children themselves are unfazed by the zombie apocalypse happening around them, even calling the zombies fake-looking. While the adults lose their heads the children, especially the Darth Vader-loving Felix, look like the coolest bunch of characters here. That’s not to say that the adults aren’t impressive.
After her barnstorming dual performance in Jordan Peele’s remarkable Us, Nyong’o could be the next Scream Queen. England brings a loveable shaggy dog quality to his performance as a loser finally making good. But it’s Gad who steals the show with his rib-tickling (and rib-tearing-out) performance as a real piece of work who shows his true colour (yellow) when put under pressure. Never mind the odd mix of American actors and a secret US Army base conducting experiments in picturesque Australia (not in the outback, mind). It’s a daft plot point that is easily glossed over by the film’s good-natured and very Aussie sense of humour. No children were eaten in the making of this film… but it will take a bite out of your heart and charm you with its careful balance of humour, zombie gore and great characters. Little Monsters gets a shining silver star for being a little Aussie ripper.