Little Monsters Movie Review
Written by Mary Kay McBrayer
Released by Hulu and NEON
Written and directed by by Abe Forsyth
2019, 93 minutes, Rated R
Released on October 11th, 2019
Lupita N’yongo as Miss Caroline
Josh Gad as Teddy McGiggle
Alexander England as Dave
Little Monsters is the comedy zombie film you always wanted—like if we acknowledged that Billy Madison was stupid in an intolerable way, we admitted the teacher was the protagonist, and all the kids had actual, three-dimensional personalities. Plus zombies.
The premise is that David (Alexander England), our unlikely protagonist, is in an unhappy relationship. He walks out on his girlfriend and goes to stay with his sister (a single mother) and his nephew. By all accounts, David is a stereotypical loser: he’s fixated on his band which has already broken up, he has no ambition, and he does not want to have children, which is the straw that breaks the camel’s back regarding his breakup. When he takes his nephew, Felix (Diesel La Torranca), to school at his sister’s behest, though, he sees Miss Caroline (played by the inimitable Lupita N’yongo) high-fiving her students good morning, and he falls immediately in deep lust. So much so that when another class mom bails on chaperoning the petting zoo field trip the next day, David volunteers. Only to get close to Miss Caroline, of course. While on the excursion, they see an American children’s show filming—starring Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad)—and then zombies break out. This is the premise for the funniest and most original zombie movie I’ve ever seen.
It’s then that the story’s setting of Australia becomes relevant. An Australian petting zoo (the site of the field trip) is way cooler than one set in America because of all the animals unique to the continent, which is why Teddy McGiggle has taken his children’s show on the road. American soldiers show up talking about Australian creatures who kill humans, complaining that they might not get to see koalas, never anticipating they’re going to be dealing with ZOMBIES.
As far as other characters are concerned, Miss Caroline is as delightful as David is insufferable, what with his heavy metal busking; nothing-fights with his long-term girlfriend; inappropriately adult conversations with his nephew; and overall skeeziness reflected in the sag of skinny jeans as he thirsts after his nephew’s kindergarten teacher. In contrast, Miss Caroline has flawless skin and hair and a bright sunshine-colored A-line dress. She plays the ukulele, is unshaking in her conviction and levelheadedness, and she has no time or patience for the likes of David. From wardrobe to profession to personality, these two characters are the unlikeliest duo, much like the intersection of comedy and horror.
Seriously, nothing in this movie is wasted. There are exactly zero lines thrown away—and Josh Gad plays his character in the grotesque-but-also-just-gross way that many of us think of grown-ass men who star in children’s shows. (Think PeeWee’s Playhouse… but lean into its irony.) While you may be thinking, well OF COURSE Josh Gad’s performance is flawless, he’s a national treasure; so is everyone else’s, honestly. David is so unlikeable because of England’s excellent rendering of him. And there’s nothing more annoying than having a child character who has no character. All of these children have personalities, even the ones without speaking lines, who just stare incredulously at David as he swipes trash off the table onto the ground rather than into the trash can, or the chubby bully, Max, who wants to play Putt-Putt more than anything in the whole fucking world and has the best, craggiest, scream known to humankind. They are each one a delight. Lines that could have been silly or wasted had me literally laughing aloud, like when David tries to tell Felix goodbye over the hubbub of the classroom, and then SHRIEKS for him to have a good day, startling all the children, Miss Caroline, and me, too.
What’s more—it’s not just the dialogue that’s written so tightly. All of the writing fits together, with no extraneous “Oh, that was an outtake that made them laugh during filming” bits. Even the Taylor Swift motif comes back in! Twice! So does Miss Caroline’s outfit. The obvious Chekov’s gun of Felix’s allergies. And most importantly, the representation does work that other zombie films don’t do. Not only is our final girl Black (which is uncommon enough), but the children are ethnically diverse as well as at different ranges of ability, without those characteristics defining their personalities. Mikey might have spina bifida (a fact that Felix tells David when David calls him “retarded”), but Mikey also bullies Felix, gets hungry with the rest of the kids, and his walker later becomes a weapon against the zombies. No detail is wasted.
There are some truly beautiful frames in the film, as well, like Felix driving the tractor full of children with the zombies ambling along behind. Or the confrontation in which Miss Caroline pulls David aside to warn him about his behavior toward the children, while in deep-focused background a zombie is attacking and eating a tourist. The score, as well, is impeccable in demonstrating the emotion of light-hearted, wise panic.
If you want the gore but not the fear, the comedy but not the stupidity, the artfulness without the existentialism, you want Little Monsters.
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