As someone who absolutely adores horror comedies in all forms, Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters quickly won over my genre-loving heart and is my favorite movie that I’ve seen this year at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. A light-hearted tale of a kindergarten teacher who must protect her students against a horde of bloodthirsty zombies with the unlikely assistance of a professional slacker, there are numerous reasons why I absolutely adored Little Monsters, but I must admit, watching Lupita Nyong’o beheading zombies and playing Taylor Swift on her trusty ukulele made this gem of a film nearly impossible to resist.
Little Monsters begins with a montage of scenes featuring Dave (Alexander England) constantly bickering with his girlfriend over his need to grow up and her desire for a more fulfilling relationship that includes kids. The pair ultimately decide to call it quits, with Dave retreating to his older sister Sara’s (Nadia Townsend) home, where he couch surfs and acts as a bad influence on his adorable nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca). One day, Dave is tasked with taking Felix to school, where he meets the lovely Miss Caroline (Nyong’o), his nephew’s warm, witty, and unpredictable kindergarten teacher. Immediately smitten, Dave volunteers to help out on Felix’s upcoming class trip to the Pleasant Valley petting zoo and mini-golf course, but as a zombie outbreak is unleashed at a nearby military facility, it’s up to Miss Caroline and Dave to keep all the kids safe from harm, and find a way to try and escape their horrendous situation before it’s too late.
In terms of striking the balance of horror and comedy here, with Little Monsters, it feels like writer/director Forsythe is leaning more heavily towards comedic territory than going for thrills and chills, but honestly, I’m perfectly okay with that, because I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish by the humorous, whip-smart script. That being said, there are still some crazy gore gags in Little Monsters for those of you looking for some zombie-related carnage, as we watch hordes of the living dead feast upon the petting zoo animals, tourists, and other folks who just happen to be at Pleasant Valley that day. Some of the blood and guts are played for laughs, though, and I must tip my hat to a gag where one zombie decides to feast on an unfortunate porcupine, leaving the ghoul with a goatee made of spiky quills. But as a whole, the comedic and horrific beats complement each other in Little Monsters very well.
Forsythe has assembled an excellent cast with Little Monsters, with Nyong’o delivering yet another show-stopping performance here that oozes a natural likeability and some enjoyable quirks to boot (like her obsession with Taylor Hanson). What’s great about Miss Caroline is that everything about her feels very grounded; she’s not just a natural badass, but when her back is up against the proverbial wall and she has to protect her students, she will stop at nothing to ensure their safety and keep the tots from panicking about their predicament because that is her job. I also think England as Dave is pretty damn great, too, and it’s really fun to see his character evolve over the course of the movie.
I’m the first to admit that when it comes to Josh Gad, and I’m sorry Mr. Gad if you’re reading this, I’ve just never been a fan, simply because the actor is often given these one-note characters to play, which is yet another thing I liked about Little Monsters. His turn as Teddy McGiggles, a children’s TV host whose obnoxious schtick is only welcomed by anyone under the age of 12, is really funny and layered, and I think Gad taking on this role in particular was his own way of commenting on being typecast over the years. There’s nothing revelatory about the fact that McGiggles is someone who puts on a good dog and pony show for the kids, but is a despicable human being otherwise, but it’s Gad’s performance that adds a little dimension to Teddy, and his alcohol-fueled shenanigans made me enjoy his work in this film. Here’s hoping we see more of this version of Gad in the future.
But every character gets an arc in Little Monsters, and they are all given some great moments to shine in Forsythe’s script, which is no easy feat to pull off, and I loved that even little Felix gets his time in the spotlight, which was refreshing to see. So many times, when you have a film that pairs up the slacker adult with a kid, the child usually ends up being something of a prop or a plot device in service of the story for the adult character. But not Felix. His tiny Darth Vader moments in Little Monsters are totally triumphant and heart-warming, and easily become some of the most scene-stealing moments in the entire movie.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Little Monsters is poised to be the breakout horror hit of 2019, as it’s infectiously charming and heartfelt, and it left me with a big goofy grin. For anyone who has felt like the zombie subgenre is well-mined cinematic territory with no real surprises left to be found, Forsythe is here to prove with Little Monsters that there is still a ton of fun to be found when you unleash a multitude of flesh-eaters upon a children’s petting zoo.
Movie Score: 4.5/5
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