Synopsis – A washed-up musician teams up with a teacher and a kids show personality to protect young children from a sudden outbreak of zombies.
My Take – No offense to the fans of the genre, but zombie comedies films have become nauseatingly clichéd. While a few, like Anna And The Apocalypse, have managed to stand out in the past decade by offering a unique set up, the vast majority of them, let’s face it, have been quite awful, with the quality going down with each new release.
While it seemed like director Jim Jarmusch‘s Dead Don’t Die, a curious deadpan horror-comedy starring Bill Murray and Adam Driver, among others, would bring the sub-genre back into the mainstream, the results turned out to be disappointingly otherwise.
Initially, I hadn’t planned on watching this one too, but since I had an opportunity to attend its U.A.E premiere, I decided to test my tolerance levels. Thankfully, the film turned out to be very entertaining with a surprisingly large number of positive aspects going for it! To be honest, writer-director Abe Forsythe‘s film doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, yet it turned out to be instantly and entirely gratifying over the latter mentioned film.
There’s just enough humorous gags, suspenseful scares, fleshy gore, and quite surprisingly, a dash of heartfelt sentiment, to make for an amusing thrill-ride, which deserved a watch, for both fans and non-fans alike.
The story follows Dave (Alexander England), a struggling heavy metal rocker, who following years of arguments and ultimate breakup with his girlfriend finds himself moving in with his sister Tess (Kat Stewart) and his 5-year-old nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca). Tess has only one demand that he contributes to the workings of the household, which includes taking Felix to school.
Which eventually leads for Dave to volunteer for the class’s upcoming field trip to Pleasant Valley Farm, although it is more a concerted effort to spend time with the endearing teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o). However, what was meant to be a breezy trip turns into a very different experience when an outbreak from the US military base next door sends hordes of zombies storming down on the farm, leaving the duo and children’s entertainer Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad) to protect the children and themselves from a bunch of slow moving but bloodthirsty undead.
Straight off the bat, the Australian-set film is crudely funny in all the right ways. At times it is outrageously inappropriate, but it manages to balance out its impure moments with scenes of genuine emotion and a message that travels right to the heart: a must if you hope to formulate a 94-minute film from swathes of adults and five-year-olds cursing at each other.
What I really appreciated about the film is that the comedy is primarily generated through the characters and via situational humor, instead of via cheap slapstick and over-the-top gore like in most zombie comedies. The funniest parts of the film are even in the first half hour, when there isn’t a zombie in sight yet and the story still centers on Uncle Dave taking care of his 5-year-old nephew and trying to win his girlfriend back.
Another very imaginative aspect is that Miss Caroline spontaneously decides not to tell children that they are trapped in the middle of a zombie outbreak. Instead, she explains it’s a sort of game and part of the excursion, which makes the film unique. The film also doesn’t quite skimp on the bloodletting, and we get plenty of zombie action beats as our heroes try to weave in and around the clamoring undead.
Some of it happens off-screen, unfortunately, but the shenanigans come fast and fun leaving little room for disappointment on that front. Here, director Forsythe crafts some suspenseful sequences along the way too involving near-misses and escape attempts, and all of it combines for a quick and entertaining watch.
Unlike 2014’s equally funny Cooties which turned the kids into the monsters, the kindergartners here are the potential victims with only a handful of adults standing between them and a grisly death. It’s not often that I watch a horror film rooting for the children to survive, but this is one of those occasions due as much to their adorableness as to Miss Caroline’s dedication.
Of course, the film does contain elements of a derivative zombie flick and thus cannot escape the use of several dreadful clichés and idiotic twists. Sure, in a country as enormous as Australia, the military zone where they experiment with zombie viruses has to be located at less than 500 meters of a children’s animal park! Also the zombie outbreak is the most random and unexplained one in history.
It also lacks any kind of breathtakingly staged set-piece or imaginative direction. For example, when Miss Caroline discovers that decapitating is the best way to immobilize them and runs straight into a horde of zombies with a shovel, it’s entertaining, sure, but it doesn’t have the triumphant oomph one might hope for.
However, director Forsythe is much more successful with lower key gags. A slow-moving farm tractor, for instance, doesn’t seem like it would be the best way to escape throngs of zombies, but remember, the enemy here also operates at a leisurely pace. Likewise, another clever joke involves a kid who wants to play “putt-putt” miniature golf throughout the film and finally gets his wish in a way that’s entirely befitting the film.
Performance wise, Lupita Nyong’o plays an atypical role for a zombie film but in a very refreshing way. Besides anchoring the film, you really start to appreciate her incredible range as an actress and why her Oscar winning debut role in 12 Years a Slave was so well deserved. Alexander England also does well to make Dave an emotionally compelling character and not just a slacker idiot stereotype, even when he’s interacting with or using his nephew in exceedingly inappropriate ways.
Josh Gad is super bad, albeit intentional with profanity, but also a scene stealer when it comes to iterating how conflicted celebrities can be in showbiz. Kat Stewart and the children provide good support. On the whole, ‘Little Monsters’ is funny and gory zombie comedy which despite its predictable traits manages to be an entertaining watch.
Directed – Abe Forsythe
Rated – R
Run Time – 94 minutes