LFF 2019: Little Monsters Review
We all know the zombie movie formula by now I think it’s fair to say. A perfectly normal day is suddenly interrupted by the undead, and a group of people need to band together to survive. We’ve seen it in malls, in big cities, on trains, on planes, in high schools, in theme parks. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere else for the formula to go. Little Monsters, whilst not really having much plot-wise to set it apart from others of its kind, does have one thing; the power of optimism.
Failed musician David (Alexander England) has broken up with his girlfriend and is currently sleeping on his sister Tess’ (Kat Stewart) sofa and doing a terrible job of helping with his little nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca). In an attempt to impress Felix’s cheerful and sweet teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o) he volunteers to help chaperone the class trip to a local farm where they see popular TV entertainer Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad) performing a show. Zombies attack, as they are want to do, and Miss Caroline swears to do anything to keep the children safe and shield them from the horror, making survival a game for the children to play.
It feels strange to describe this movie as “delightful”. Funny? Yes. Gory? Sure. But calling a movie which features the viscera-munching undead delightful doesn’t sound right, and yet that is the feeling that Little Monsters left me with. There’s just something so endearing about the determined positivity in the face of horror that is just so appealing. Scream Queen heir apparent Lupita Nyong’o’s Miss Caroline can have a spot on my zombie survival team any day. With a cheery smile and a ukulele in hand she can take charge of just about any situation for her kids, but just because she’s nice doesn’t mean she’s a pushover and there is more to her character than just being nice and sweet.
By making the situation a game for the children she is trying to prevent them from being traumatised by what is happening around them, and it is funny to hear some of the excuses she makes for what’s actually happening. It's an interesting concept, the idea of preserving innocence as the world falls apart around them. The kids themselves are also fun to watch for some really great facial shots throughout. I will also say that it’s rare that you can say about any horror movie that Taylor Swift is a major plot point.
The laughs are solid and consistent throughout the brisk 94 minute runtime. The zombie effects are all effective and practically done. It’s actually fairly low on the really extreme gore, possibly a necessity born from budget limitations, but it still works. There’s also a few meta digs at the zombie genre as a whole, with the classic discussion of “slow zombies or fast zombies” popping up courtesy of the amusingly incompetent soldiers whose base is the source of the undead.
The biggest problem that the film has is that it takes a really long time to get going with its main premise. The film spends a lot of time on making sure you know in slightly disgusting detail just how much of an irresponsible and selfish manchild David is before we get to the zombie mayhem. It’s not needed as this is a very familiar character template. The loser who is forced to step up in the way that only a potential zombie apocalypse can force upon him, so a bit less time on that and a bit more time on some really fun and creative zombie kills or other kinds of character moments would have been nice, particularly with David and his nephew Felix as that’s the real emotional hook of the film.
Although, in actuality David comes second in the jerk rankings to Josh Gad’s Teddy McGiggle, the children’s entertainer who is perfectly happy leaving the children to doom if it means saving himself. He is hilarious and Gad is clearly having a great time being crude and using some very non-Disney language. Just about every zombie movie needs a scumbag, and he’s a pretty good one.
Little Monsters isn’t going to go down as the new Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, or Train to Busan, it’s not going to be a new benchmark for zombie movies. But what it is going to do is give you a good time while you’re watching it. Now, somebody hand me a ukulele.