Zombie comedies are a tough nut to crack. Shaun Of The Dead is clearly the high point of the sub-genre, getting the balance just right between laughs and scares. Subsequent attempts have been less successful, and there are now so many zombie films out there that when a vaguely original premise pops up it immediately grabs your attention.
So it is with Little Monsters, a refreshing take on the genre. It has its feet firmly on the comedy side, but doesn’t skimp on the gore. Writer / director Abe Forsythe manages to sidestep the over saturated zombie genre by placing the horror in the background, focusing instead on the human relationships at the core of the story.
In a well edited, Edgar Wright-esque opening sequence, we see the chain of events that leads to immature Dave (Alexander England) getting dumped by his girlfriend and sleeping on his sister’s couch, where he serves as a terrible influence on his impressionable nephew Felix (The unbearably sweet Diesel La Torraca).
Attempting to take more responsibility, and get closer to Felix’s beautiful teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o), Dave volunteers on the upcoming field trip to a farm. Unfortunately, the trip coincides with a neighbouring military facility being overrun with zombies. Miss Caroline refuses to let the zombies ruin the day though, and decides to disguise the outbreak as an elaborate game of tag.
Nyong’o is a breath of fresh air, a complete antithesis of her blank slate character in Us, her bright-eyed and bushy tailed performance is contagious and pitch perfect in its warmth and humanity. England is also great as a man stuck in a perpetual adolescence. His character is both likeable and incredibly annoying, but identifiably human and the inappropriate, but warm, dialogue he has with Felix are some of the highlights of the film. It helps that he has great chemistry with La Torraca, officially the cutest child actor ever to don a Darth Vader costume. All of the children are great though, and crucially they feel like real kids, not kids who have been to drama school.
Less successful is Josh Gad as a sleazy children’s entertainer. He’s basically as obnoxious as you would expect and although he’s also the source of a lot of the film’s humour, he doesn’t really fit. He’s unlikable and too broad. It almost seems a facile thing to say of a film set during a zombie outbreak, but it does get a little too silly in places and Gad’s performance tends to take you out of the film. However, this is only an issue because the relationships depicted generally feel incredibly authentic and true to life.
What Little Monsters gets right is the scale. While most zombie films have an apocalyptic feel to them, this one is more contained. It’s a temporary, if life threatening problem and this helps prevent the film from being too fatalistic. It never loses its subversive edge though, with the best line in the film coming from a world weary soldier saying “I won’t shoot children… again”.
The emphasis is definitely more on the comedy and while the horror is never particularly scary, the comedy is appropriately dark. The zombies are gruesome but the film could have benefited from some nastier moments. After a while it becomes clear that they’re not going to kill off any of the child cast, which, while understandable, does mean the suspense drops off dramatically and the ending becomes a little predictable.
Little Monsters is a lot of fun. It wisely takes its time getting to the zombies, recognising that we have to care about the characters first. It also has a lot of heart and this really pays off. Even if the ending is a little cloying, it speaks well of the writing and the performances that despite the outlandish setting, the relationships feel authentic throughout.
Little Monsters opens in UK and Irish cinemas on 15th November.