It doesn’t take long for Little Monsters to play its entire hand. Despite a strong start, with an opening montage of a couple screaming at each other, it soon becomes clear that this zomcom’s fleshy bag of tricks is limited to yelling and unimaginative vulgarity. To its detriment, director Abe Forsythe’s film focuses on Dave (Alexander England), a man struggling to cope with the breakup of a longterm relationship. Briefly put, Dave is the worst in a way that isn’t all that funny. Constantly pining for the glory days of his mediocre metal band God’s Sledgehammer, his behaviour is so pathetic that it borders on Always Sunny in Philadelphia levels of wilful unpleasantness, but the film never recognises it as such, instead choosing to portray the character as cute in a manner that doesn’t befit his actions.
After moving to a new living space (his sister’s couch), Dave ends up spending most of his time with his nephew Felix, who he uses to try and win his girlfriend back. Later, he quickly falls for Felix’s ukulele-playing, Taylor Swift-covering teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o) and switches tack to pursue her instead. Having proved herself capable as a leading horror protagonist in Jordan Peele’s Us earlier this year, it’s hard not to wonder why the film isn’t centred around Nyong’o. A thrilling, magnetic presence throughout, the Black Panther star also knows how to play to the humour of her scenario.
As Dave assists Miss Caroline on a school trip to a camp in the Australian countryside (which happens to neighbour a US Army testing facility), the zombie element is introduced. Similarly to Edgar Wright’s whip-smart Shaun of the Dead, the story is told from the perspective of a man who desperately needs to clean up his act and take control of his life. Ultimately, Little Monsters is a less inventive update of that modern classic, and the format only amplifies the feeling that this tale would be best told from the point of view of Lupita’s slowly unravelling schoolteacher, who frantically tries to stave off the undead hordes while shielding the children from age-inappropriate bloodshed.
There’s some fun to be had in these moments as the film begins to flex some creative muscle – and seeing Miss Caroline unleash her pent-up stresses by burying a trowel in a zombie’s face is a delight. But it remains frustrating, with the introduction of Josh Gad as a children’s entertainer who (gasp!) turns out to be a scoundrel providing yet more evidence of a lack of new ideas. The supporting characters feel like paper thin caricatures, and despite being the centre of the piece, Dave’s narrative arc feels superfluous, a predictable track to self-betterment that only distracts from the more interesting things happening around him. Brief moments of smarter, more intricate gags tease a more engaging watch, but one that is lost in the emotionally rote version we’re presented with.
That said, it becomes a lot more watchable as Dave mellows out, turning into a well-meaning dimwit rather than just a crass, loud-mouthed dimwit. The former is actually more compelling to watch, even if the transformation is extremely sudden. While there’s some creative touches amongst the repetition (such as a zombie frog puppet), Little Monsters lacks a killer instinct.
- Director: Abe Forsythe
- Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Josh Gad
- Record label: 15 November 2019