SXSW review: Little Monsters is THE horror comedy of 2019


Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters is a side-splitting blend of gore and laughs with a relatable story of finding yourself… in the apocalypse.

Zombies represent our fears and anxieties. Our desire to not conform. To kill them is to avoid responsibility. The zombie film itself has also tried to avoid conformity, undergoing so many incarnations that director Abe Forsythe has a character ask in his film, Little Monsters, whether the zombies here are “fast or slow.”

And yet Little Monsters is unlike any zombie film you’ve seen before in its emphasis on characters knowing what they are up against and, in fact, the worst that could happen is a kid consumes dairy.

David (Alexander England) is like most movie males: a slacker trying to hold up his band, God’s Sledgehammer, together as a solo despite it breaking up six years ago. He’s recently dumped his long-term girlfriend for wanting a baby, and thinks the lowest of her because she’s found a new guy.

Now he lives with his older sister, Tess (Kat Stewart) and her 5-year-old son, Felix (Diesel La Torraca). Dropping off the boy at kindergarten one day, Dave meets his nephew’s teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o) and immediately falls for her. He volunteers to chaperone the class field trip to Pleasant Valley Farms, but when a zombie invasion breaks out, Dave and Miss Caroline will have to band together to get the kids home safe.

Little Monsters is in the vein of other zombie comedies like Shaun of the Dead and last year’s brilliant Anna and the Apocalypse in that it takes a standard horror trope and uses it to perpetuate a real human issue, while lampooning these movies in general. In this case Dave is a shiftless layabout who survives because of the strength of others. In this case, Nyong’o’s Miss Caroline is the one able to organize, plan, and execute ideas in order to keep the kids not only safe, but shielded from the horror around them. Dave, by proxy, is forced to become an adult and reconcile with his own past traumas of abandonment and toxic masculinity.

Little Monsters’ Dave would be perfectly suited for someone like Chris Hemsworth (or Liam Hemsworth, for that matter), but that might be because of how charmingly Alexander England plays the character. There’s little to recommend Dave outright, starting with the opening credits featuring him and his girlfriend chronically screaming at each other. Dave takes people for granted, from his girlfriend to his sister and nephew. But underneath his trickery is a a soul that’s pure. He’s a man-child in the grand tradition of man-children, but England keeps it light.

He comes alive when paired opposite Nyong’o who is on another level. We’ve never seen the Oscar-winning actress give this type of performance and it’s extraordinary! Her Miss Caroline is an impeccable blend of superhero, educator, and, as Nyong’o herself said during the audience Q&A, Fraulein Maria from The Sound of Music. When one of the students takes ill, Forsythe gives Nyong’o an action-sequence as hilarious as it is powerful, and with a landing that will blow Superman’s out of the water.

It’s hokey, but this is a tribute to educators, and seeing Nyong’o portray one with all the sensitivity, warmth, and bravery of Miss Caroline shows her range. I know it’s popular to say Us should nab her another nomination, but I’d argue Little Monsters is just as worthy. Need more proof? She learned to play the ukulele and sings a song about living on the moon!

Because the characters are so compelling and zombie movies are a dime a dozen, it’s unsurprising that Forsythe doesn’t give us a grand reason for their existence, though it is a funny one for political reasons. The zombies invade the farm and the runtime turns into watching Dave and Miss Caroline preserve the children’s innocence under the guise of it being a game.

There’s a beautiful goal for the duo of keeping the children innocent in spite of the death and destruction — the invasion of the real world — creeping in towards them. Complicating this bubble is television star Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad in so much makeup you’ll think he’s wax). Gad improvised most of his performance and it’ll bring tears of laughter to your eyes. It’s hard to not associate McGiggle with Gad himself and if that’s the intention, it’ll be hard to look at Olaf for awhile.

Ultimately, Little Monsters is the story of a man learning to appreciate domesticity and in a world where that storyline usually is reserved for a woman, it was wonderful to watch. Little Monsters is a sensational entry into the zombie landscape with characters you’ll root for, cry over, and love to hate. Give Lupita all the awards!

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