You know what you never really see in zombie movies? Children. Specifically, human children. Specifically specifically, how human children handle zombie outbreaks. Little Monsters, however, builds an entire movie around that question. Take a cherubic kindergarten class and drop them off at a petting zoo in the epicenter of a zombie outbreak. Throw in one dimwitted uncle still obsessed with his defunct death metal band, one relentlessly positive kindergarten teacher and one alcoholic children’s show host as the adults who must safeguard the kids until help comes. Oh, and one frog hand puppet and buckets of blood.
At its heart, Little Monsters is a simple story. Dave (Alexander England) is a washed-up musician with no goals, no job, and no self-awareness. He’s not really trying to get his life together when he meets the vivacious Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o), kindergarten teacher to his nephew Felix (the amazingly-named Diesel La Torraca). Dave volunteers to fill in as a chaperone on the kindergarten field trip in order to get close to Miss Caroline, but all hell breaks loose on the petting zoo trip when they get caught in the middle of a zombie outbreak.
I caught this Australian film at SXSW and it’s since received a stateside release date of November 15. It was one of my favorites from the fest, a little gem of a film that was eminently entertaining Here are three reasons to see Little Monsters when it hits theaters.
1. It Is Freaking Hilarious
Let me preface this by saying if you’re looking for a purely terrifying zombie horror flick, this isn’t the movie for you. Little Monsters leans way, way into the zany comedy and it is glorious when it does. Unless you’ve seen Gods of Egypt or Alien: Covenant, Alexander England isn’t known to U.S. audiences. I’m hoping that changes soon, because England deserves more eyeballs on his work. As Dave, England channels a spectacularly clueless idiot with a good heart buried way…way…down beneath the selfish exterior. Dave’s crass and completely inappropriate way of speaking to children elicits quite a few laughs, but his nonverbal acting generates just as many. Similar to Chris Hemsworth when directors finally allowed him to lean into his comedic side, England plays the big, dumb golden retriever type well.
But if Dave’s crass humor (which, admittedly, might not be for everyone) elicits laughs, it’s Josh Gad who steals the show from a comedic standpoint. As the alcoholic, sex-addicted children’s TV show host Teddy McGiggle, Gad channels a manic, foul-mouthed performance that is utterly depraved – and utterly hilarious. It’s nice to see Gad in a role that isn’t voicework or a family-friendly movie and a reminder that he’s a deeply talented performer that shouldn’t be pigeonholed into a certain type of role.
2. The Kids Are Allowed To Be Kids
Kids are great. Child actors in movies, however, especially the very young, can be challenging. They’re like cats – sometimes they’ll go in the direction you want them to, and sometimes they’ll just look at you point-blank, shrug, and then do what they damn well please. Because little kid reasons. But when a director allows kids to be exactly that – kids – the results can be magical. Abe Forsythe wisely chooses that route in Little Monsters. That’s not to say the kids never have set beats and lines they need to hit. La Torraca, in particular, has almost as many lines as any of the adult actors in the film. But they’re all delivered without the polished precociousness that too many child actors have, as if the lines are being delivered by a tiny adult rather than a kindergartner. Not so here. The kids are adorable, tiny maniacs who act in ways both unpredictable and unintentionally hilarious – just as little kids do in real life. There is one moment involving a full-on meltdown over mini-golf that had me laughing so hard I cried. Anyone who has been with a toddler or young kid when they have decided they are done and show how done they are with a full-body tantrum will immediately recognize it when they see it. Rather than detracting from the movie, the chaotic quirkiness of the kindergartners only adds to it.
3. Lupita Nyong’o Slays Literally And Figuratively
Lupita Nyong’o is quickly becoming one of those must-watch actors. Her roles have been diverse to date, but nothing quite like this. As the sweet-natured, eternally patient kindergarten teacher Miss Caroline, Nyong’o channels a Renaissance Madonna as she beatifically watches over her tiny flock. But in one particular scene, McGiggle threatens the kids and that’s when a switch flips inside her. Let’s just say it involves a broken ceramic statue being pointed suspiciously accurately at his…spleen? Seems like his spleen..al… area? I don’t know stabbing anatomy, you guys, and I even spent time looking at a chart of the body organs to try to figure this out. So yeah, let’s go with spleen. As she leans in and calmly whispers how it will go for him if he steps out of line again, she has control of not only McGiggle, but of the entire audience. Full of menace but framed so sweetly that the children sitting ten feet away have no idea anything is amiss, it is a masterfully understated performance that underscores just how magnetic Nyong’o is every time she’s on a screen.
Little Monsters is set to hit theaters on November 15.