The “feel good” horror movie is an elusive beast. In a genre that continuously strives to make it’s audiences feel thrillingly shitty, the act of throwing an un-cynical ray of sunshine on the (usually humerous) carnage and aiming for a wholesome message amid the spraying visera is a tough balance. In fact I can count great examples of this rare breed on one hand with the two most prominent being Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty and Edgar Wright’s peerless Shaun Of The Dead.
It’s the latter of these two that forms the basis for magnificent Aussie Horror-Comedy Little Monsters, a movie that, while being wickedly funny, is also almost overwhelmingly sweet.
Dave is a shithead. Saddled with a pathological fear of responsibility and a horribly outdated conviction that his death metal band God’s Sledgehammer is still going to hit big despite them breaking up 6 years ago, this directionless man-child has hit rock bottom after breaking up with his long term girlfriend. Crashing on his older sister’s couch he’s forced to clumsily bond with his sickly nephew Felix despite having a huge aversion to children in general.
However, upon taking him to school one day he meets the utterly enchanting Miss Caroline, Felix’s virtuous kindergarten teacher who has a penchant for enthralling her kids by playing Taylor Swift hits on her tiny guitar (“Rocking Tay-Tay on the ukule-le”) and in an attempt to impress her volunteers to be a chaperone on an upcoming trip to a petting zoo to meet visiting US children’s personality Timothy Giggles. However, in the neighbouring American military testing facility (just go with it, yeah) a zombie virus has caused a full on outbreak of lumbering gut crunchers who sets their rheumy, yellowish gaze on the park full of juicy animals and children.
Immediately, Miss Caroline snaps into survival mode, convincing the children that this sudden wave of zombie death is all a super involved game of tag and strains to not only keep all her 5 year old wards safe, but utterly unaware that anything bad is happening at all. Can Dave finally step up and act responsible when everyone needs him most or will they all be betrayed by Timothy Giggles, exposed by all the horror as a bitter, sex addicted coward.
Little Monsters could quite possibly be the best horror comedy I’ve seen since Shaun Of The Dead (not surprising as it “borrows” liberally from the Simon Pegg hit) but there’s one annoying niggle that stops it short of being a 5 star work of paralleled genius and that’s the use of Lupita Nyong’o’s adorable teacher.
Simply put, if Miss Caroline and not Dave was the main focus of this movie you undoubtedly would have something incredibly special as the supremely talented actress has bust out yet another indelible horror icon in the same year as her horrifyingly memorable “Red” from Jordan Peele’s Us. With her bright yellow dress almost literally invoking the warming rays of the sun, she is the horror female lead we never knew we needed until now and the actress embodies her with enough life to make her far more than a one dimensional joke character.
Alexander England as slobby emotional lummox Dave is a far more basic character and skirts hard into white man-child cliche but is still well acted enough to make his A to B character arc work well enough that you are legitimately pleased when he finally steps up. Josh Gad, however, relishes playing human garbage in a bright green suit as the monstrously treacherous Timothy Giggles, whether dropping unnecessary c-bombs in response to sensible questions or downing hand sanitizer and even meths like it’s an Olympic sport in order to get his buzz on to cope with the swarming dead. Free from having to pull off any semblance of a character arc, Gad takes the opportunity to be gut-bustingly vile to any one or thing that wanders into his sight line.
The zombies are refreshingly old school too, loping bastards slow enough to make the farcical premise seem remotely plausible (at one point Miss Caroline organizes the clueless kids to conga past them) and the gore is well staged and entertaining (the unfortunate zombie feasting on a porcupine with a face full of quills induced a belly laugh of depthcharger proportions).
It the film has any real issues is that it’s a tad derivative at times (Dave’s arc is one we’ve seen literally dozens of times before and the ending hews oddly close to Train To Busan) but the varied gags (a running Darth Vader joke is vintage), a bewitching female lead (I defy you not to fall in love with her after her rendition of Bert and Ernie’s “I Don’t Want To Live On The Moon”) and a premise so sweet it had me beaming from ear to ear all the way through means that Little Monsters is quite possibly the most adorable zombie movie ever made.