by Stephen Campbell - Is this helpful?
_**Consistently funny and very heart-felt, anchored by yet another superb Lupita Nyong'o performance**_
>_Zombies weren't the catalyst. The catalyst was my son, and my son's first year of kindergarten, in particular. He has very severe food allergies, the same allergies as the character of Felix. It was a terrifying thing, for me, his first day of school. He had never been out of my care before the first day of school. I was so scared of having to give responsibility for his health responsibilities to someone else. He was so lucky that his kindie teacher was amazing. She really knew what to_ _do to allay my fears, and not in a perfunctory way. I knew she was actually really taking it seriously, among 24 or 25 other kids. Seeing her manage everything and, in particular, look after my son, and how she opened up the world outside of me to my son, it made me realize how important teachers are. I knew how important teachers are, but kindergarten teachers, in particular, I hadn't really considered that, and to have direct experience of it. I was on a school excursion with her, my son, and 24 of his classmates. We went to a petting zoo, which is where the film is set. It's actually the same petting zoo that we filmed the movie. Something happened on that school excursion where I thought, what if there was a zombie? How would we defend a class of kids from a zombie attack, and how would you stop their minds from being corrupted, as well? That seemed, for me, like a metaphor for zombies, in a fun way, to represent the horrors of the world. Whatever you want those horrors to be, whatever they mean to you, it's easy to look at an instance of a child and the thing that's going to corrupt and destroy them. It was the best way of telling that story and that idea in a fun way, to make them zombies. I never went, "Oh, I want to make my version of a zombie movie." No, it was my son, and everything he's taught me, I can put into something and say it in a way that feels surprising. I think I can say it in a more profound way than if I made it as a drama._
- Abe Forsythe; "Writer/Director Abe Forsythe Interview: _Little Monsters_" (Zak Wojnar); _Screen Rant_ (October 14, 2019)
Kind of like a cross between Ivan Reitman's _Kindergarten Cop_ (1990) and Edgar Wright's _Shaun of the Dead_ (2004), _Little Monsters_ is a hilarious and unexpectedly moving piece of work, which accomplishes something rather unexpected – it shows there's still life in the zom-com subgenre. The storyline is unquestionably clichéd – a loser who cares only about himself is forced to protect others, discovering his inner strength and realising he's a douche and has to change his ways (with the help of a good woman, of course). We've seen this narrative template countless times before. But what's extraordinary about writer/director Abe Forsythe's film is how he's able to create likeable characters and elicit genuine emotion from an archetypal structure that seemed to be in its death throes. I attended a screening at the 2019 IFI Horrorthon in Dublin, and the sold-out crowd gave it a standing ovation, even though none of the cast or crew were present, so it's definitely a feel-good movie, and a successful one. Anchored by yet another exceptional performance from Lupita Nyong'o (building on her astonishing, Oscar-worthy work in Jordan Peele's _Us_), _Little Monsters_ is heartfelt, light-hearted, and consistently hilarious, with a very well-modulated comedy/character ratio. And although the core is rooted in childlike innocence, it's very much for adults – there's nudity, graphic violence, a hell of a lot of swearing, and ukulele-based Taylor Swift covers. The horror. The horror.
Dave (Alexander England) is a man-child whose life is going nowhere. Unemployed and recently separated from his long-term girlfriend Sara (Nadia Townsend), who rebounds very quickly, with hilarious results, he moves in with his sister Tess (Kat Stewart) and her tractor-obsessed (yes, it is important for the plot) son Felix (Diesel La Torraca). Taking Felix to kindergarten one day, Dave becomes infatuated with his teacher, Miss. Caroline (the always radiant Lupita Nyong'o), and when a school trip to Pleasant Valley Farm petting zoo requires an additional chaperone, Dave leaps at the chance, planning to woo Caroline. The visit is going well – helped in no small part by the presence of US children's entertainer Teddy McGiggle (a wonderfully over the top Josh Gad) – until an accident at a nearby US army base releases a horde of zombies, whose first port of call is the petting zoo. And so, trapped in the zoo and determined not to upset the children, Caroline must try to convince them that everything they see is part of an elaborate game.
The thing that struck me most about _Little Monsters_ wasn't the zombies or the comedy, but the emotion. In the hands of a lesser director, the whole film would be utter schlock, but Forsythe never allows the humour to dissipate, constantly tempering the sentimentality. And it does get very sentimental at times, but it's a sentimentality that feels authentic, grounded in something real, and, most importantly, it feels earned, particularly in relation to Dave's arc, which could easily have turned into turgid melodrama. Speaking of emotional authenticity, it's worth noting that, bizarrely, Forsythe was inspired by personal experience – his five-year-old son has a lot of food allergies and had never been out of his care, so when he started in kindergarten, Forsythe was understandably anxious. However, the teacher was able to allay his fears, making him realise just how important kindergarten teachers are. The visit to the petting zoo was also inspired by a real-life visit to the same petting zoo as seen in the film. The zombies came later, and this is an important point, as the zombies are a means to an end, a vehicle for much of the comedy, but with no real importance _vis-à-vis_ what the film is trying to say. And what is it trying to say? That children can confer strength and, with their uniquely innocent perspective, offer a non-judgmental and often exceptionally perceptive view of the world.
From its opening montage (scenes of Dave and Sara arguing in various locations), the film's humour is sarcastic yet reverent, and this tone is maintained for pretty much the entire runtime; it does encourage us, for example, to laugh at how much of a loser Dave is, but it always maintains an element of warmth, never crossing the line into what could be considered cruel disparagement. The comic structure definitely has a vibe of Roberto Benigni's _La vita è bella_ (1997), with Forsythe getting a lot of mileage out of Caroline trying to keep up the illusion that everything is a game – zombies chasing people is a game of tag; the longer the children all survive, the more levels they will complete in the game; the blood all over Caroline after dispatching a group of zombies is jam. Even funnier, at one point one of the kids complains because she thinks the zombies look too fake.
The film also features one of the best sight gags I've ever seen, involving Dave and a photo of Caroline…or is it? This got the biggest laugh at the screening I attended, and really, I don't see how anyone could find it unfunny. There's also a brilliant scene involving Felix and a Darth Vader outfit, which includes him trying to use the force in a really awkward situation, later telling Tess, "_I am your father mummy_", a line which made me laugh more than it probably deserved.
In terms of the acting, Nyong'o owns the film – her performance is physical, emotional, peppy, authentic, lived-in, and when the time comes, she's fierce, unflappable, driven, with charisma to burn and a real sense of psychological verisimilitude. I've seen her in four films thus far (Steve Mc'Queen's _12 Years a Slave_, Mira Nair's _Queen of Katwe_, _Us_, and now _Little Monsters_) and she never gives anything but 100%. I don't think she knows how to give a bad performance. Her work here is such as to render Caroline a believable, relatable person, complete with a sense of emotional interiority and human fallibility. Before filming began, Nyong'o studied the Australian education system, spending time in classrooms, and talking to real kindergarten teachers, and it shows – there's a naturalism to her performance, nothing is forced (she also learned to play the ukulele). Additionally, her comic timing is absolutely spot on, a talent never even hinted at in any of her previous work – one wonders is there any genre she can't do (she's even flawless in the film's few pseudo-action scenes, and her singing voice is pretty damn good too). I honestly just can't say enough about how good she is.
Aside from Nyong'o, the film's other stand-out performances are Gad and La Torraca. Gad plays McGiggle as completely over-the-top and has an absolute ball doing it. Introduced as a kind of hyperactive but generally affable Mr. Rogers, we soon learn he's a hysterical, cowardly, self-obsessed, alcoholic, sex-addicted misogynist, who hates children, and who bitterly despises his comedic companion, a hand puppet named Mr Frogsy. This ridiculously over-the-top list of character failings gives Gad huge room to ham it up, and boy does he lean into the opportunity – whether it be tearfully confessing to Dave that he's addicted to having sex with single-mothers; drinking hand sanitizer for a buzz; screaming at zombies, "_I fucked your mother_", before tearing out their throats (with his teeth); or telling the kids that they're all going to die. Gad captures it all perfectly, in a performance that's the inverse of Nyong'o's grounded realism. La Torraca, for his part, is given a lot to do, and he performs excellently throughout. He's especially good in the early scenes as he bonds with Dave whilst playing expletive-laden, hyper-violent VR games. Bringing a real sense of innocent wonderment to the role, he's consistently likeable, sweet, and real.
If the film has a problem, it's probably the character of Dave. We're asked to like him from the get-go, but his introductory scenes don't make it easy, as he comes across as a self-important and lazy slob, who believes in his own magnificence so much, he's lost sight of everything else (Sara leaves him because he's not ready to have children). Of course, that's how he's supposed to come across, as it sets up his redemption arc later in the film. Some people, however, will undoubtedly sour to him to the point where that arc seems perfunctory, even cynically fake, which would undermine pretty much the entire second and third act. Personally, I didn't dislike him to the point where I couldn't get on board with his narrative, but I'd understand people who did.
_Little Monsters_ is an absolutely deranged movie, in the best possible sense of the word. Graphically violent and extremely funny, where its greatest merit lies is in its heart – rarely have I seen a film so sentimental that avoids becoming turgid, with Forsythe sidestepping the pitfall of overwhelming everything with jaded syrupy nonsense. Nyong'o grounds the whole thing, Gad chews the scenery magnificently, La Torraca brings genuine innocence to proceedings, and Forsythe nails the comedy/zombie balance, with virtually every joke and sight gag landing to one degree or another. The personal nature of the story's origin seeps through at every moment, and it's this sense of genuine emotional attachment which makes the film so good – it's a classic example of something being greater than the sum of its parts. The zom-com subgenre is almost completely in the rearview mirror, but Forsythe has been able to craft an emotionally genuine (and genuinely emotional) film that actually has something to say, and that has fun saying it.