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The mixing of any two genres is enough to make a film fan cautiously optimistic when it comes to a movie like writer/director Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters. That statement is even more applicable when you take into account the fact that the horror-comedy approach to zombie movies is actually well worn at this point. But even with a large number of films telling stories of love and laughs during the undead apocalypse, you could do worse than Little Monsters. Then again, you could definitely do a lot better.
Little Monsters throws a Kindergarten teacher (Lupita Nyong’o), a recently dumped wannabe rock star (Alexander England), and a children’s TV personality (Josh Gad) into a nightmare of typical proportions. With a zombie plague start to turn the good people of Australia into the walking undead, the trio of adults are forced to work together in order to protect a group of children who picked the wrong day to take a field trip.
It’s hard not to think of Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead or Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead when taking a look at a zombie horror-comedy like Little Monsters, or any other film that tries to inject humor into flesh eating mayhem. The determining factors that this particular example lacks is a fresh approach to either half of its genre equation, which leaves a middling result when it comes to laughs or screams.
The laughs in Little Monsters are not as witty as a typical entry in the genre, with a bulk of the real laugh out loud stuff coming from Josh Gad’s “kids show host gone wrong” Teddy McGiggle. Seeing Gad go off is one of the true joys of this film, as Teddy’s slide into madness and profanity in front of children makes pieces of the main stretch to the movie’s narrative a lot of fun.
While there are also some funny moments involving the various children in Little Monsters’ roster, as well as in the romantic fumbling between Alexander England’s Dave and Lupita Nyong’o’s Miss Audrey, it’s not consistent enough to keep the humor train rolling... which is typically where the horror element in a project such as this would pick up the slack.
Unfortunately, the horror of Little Monsters is nothing you haven’t seen before, especially if you’re familiar with the very similar film Cooties from a couple years back. Creepy children are a well that filmmakers have been used pretty extensively in the past, but even with that aspect present, there aren’t any genuine scares to be had in this movie.
Even in terms of how the zombie plague starts, progresses, and eventually resolves in Little Monsters feels like the film is just relying on you knowing the genre enough to fill in the gaps. Of course a US Army Testing Facility next to a petting zoo is going to kick off the big push towards tourists becoming a buffet. Naturally those tourists are going to be the first to go in the ensuing crisis. Whether the audience understands these tropes or not, they’re presented rather flatly as fact, rather than anything to be having fun with while watching them unfold.
Which also leads to the tension of the entire central scenario to Little Monsters feeling lukewarm at best. The supposed challenges that do present themselves to our protagonists are resolved quite quickly and easily, with very little consequence other than to reach the next checkpoint in the film’s script.
Watching the cast work helps move things along, especially with Lupita Nyong’o pouring so much charm into her character that you’re just as entranced with her as the on-screen students when she sings. And were there more material to develop their relationship, she and Alexander England’s dopey rock star with a heart could have made crucial emotional beats work even better when it came to selling Little Monsters’ story as a whole.
As a finished product, Little Monsters is ok to watch for fans and newbies alike, even though it’s not particularly effective on either the horror or comedy side of the fence for long stretches. If you’ve seen ‘em all, then this movie is a good enough distraction, and makes for an interesting comparison with other films of its canon. Even if it shambles like the creatures it poses as a threat to all of humanity, Little Monsters has some comedy moments that really work, while leaving the horror components to languish as easy prey for the undead.