Lupita Nyong’o Is a Zombie Battling Teacher in Absurdly Entertaining ‘Little Monsters’
The zombie movie is alive and sweet with Hulu’s “Little Monsters,” a surprisingly tender romp combining school field trips with flesh-munching corpses. It’s not trying to be satire, although it has flashes of it, and it’s not a full on gore fest, although it has some of that too. Instead this is the kind of movie made with heart and chuckles that you may discover by accident while scanning Hulu in search of something to kill a dull Friday night. It helps that the actors are masterful with their sense of timing while interpreting delightfully whacky material.
Set in Australia, the story focuses on bummed out Dave (Alexander England), a failed musician who has just been dumped by his girlfriend. Moping around Dave crashes at the place of his sister and nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca). When Dave gets a look at Felix’s kindergarten teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o), he volunteers to tag along for a class field trip out into the woods. Of course the site of their destination happens to be near a U.S. military base from which zombies have escaped. But before the horror starts the troupe meet children’s TV host Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad) and his sock puppet companion. But then the walking dead begin to appear, biting and infecting and the best Miss Caroline can do is convince the children that this is all just a game. Now Dave has to prove his merit not with flirting but with fighting off the zombie horde.
It’s kind of impressive how writer/director Abe Forsythe has made both a standard yet entertaining zombie flick and a funny take on having to be responsible for a pack of small kids. He’s not trying to reinvent the wheel here, but simply using elements we’ve seen in countless other movies to make something comic and by the end endearing. As tends to be the case, the secret recipe is that it’s not just about zombies. The heart of the story is Dave’s big crush on Miss Caroline. He’s the typical lonely guy who jumps on a bandwagon because the object of his affections happens to be on it too. Forsythe has wicked fun with a few saucy numbers like a scene where Dave masturbates in a school bathroom to a picture of Miss Caroline, or when Teddy McGiggle gets a little too close to Miss. Caroline and later admits he sleeps with many of the mothers of his audience. Much of the gags and jokes are actually quite subdued, never getting too raunchy. Depending on your preferences this is oddly enough not a bad family-friendly movie. There are real laughs in Dave and McGiggles cussing out a rowdy student, or when the zombies appear and infect the koala mascot. Even McGiggles’s sock puppet is soon devouring human flesh.
In a sense this could be seen as a goofy satire on kindergarten as the kids turn into the “little monsters” of the movie title. While outside the zombies move closer to their campus Miss Caroline’s students demand to play miniature golf, request singing and some are in costume, like Felix who is eternally in his Darth Vader mask. Dave promotes himself as a singer and when Miss Caroline, who herself plays Taylor Swift hits on a ukulele, asks for a song Dave takes out an electric guitar and roars out a whole diatribe against his girlfriend as the kids cover their ears.
Selling all this well is the fantastic performance by Lupita Nyong’o. She does indeed become everyone’s dream teacher from kindergarten, playing her ukulele, keeping track of everyone while looking beautiful in every shot, even after zombie entrails have splashed all over her dress, which she explains to the kids as being the result of a strawberry incident. Alexander England is charming gruff, playing the kind of stubborn movie loser who opens up after getting to know the kids amid the threat of death by zombie. Actually the real show stealers are the kids who all perform and are written with a slapstick tenderness. Diesel La Torraca’s Felix is a quiet kid who near the end we see crisscrossing through the zombies, in Darth Vader costume, with the confidence that he can wield the dark side with his hands just like Vader.
“Little Monsters” has laughs, some romance and even a kiss with a nuclear explosion in the background. It defines good time, even as it brings back zombies for another face off onscreen. Yet in this case the undead are mere decoration for something livelier.
“Little Monsters” opened in select theater Oct. 8 and begins streaming on Hulu Oct. 11.