No, not the “Little Monsters” with Fred Savage and Howie Mandel!
Recently, it’s been unnervingly easy to imagine that the apocalypse has fallen upon us. While we’re stocking our carts with toilet paper, the looming pressure to leave the store as soon as possible or risk sickness makes us feel like a character from “Dawn of the Dead” trying to skim the bottom floor of the shopping mall without getting zombified. Global contagion, as it turns out, has been the dominant zombie metaphor since around the 1980s. With that in mind, you’d think people would want to avoid zombie films, apocalypse dramas and say, a certain 2011 film about a global pandemic, during these uncertain times. But those of us who have seen “Contagion” top movie rental charts for the first time since, well, 2011, know better than that. So, while we’re staying home, washing our hands regularly, and getting in the mood for topical and darkly relatable movies – here’s a review.
“Little Monsters” is an Australian film I’d been looking forward to for quite some time, and while it didn’t disappoint, it was certainly completely different from what I was expecting. The premise surrounds a class of kindergarteners on a field trip to the petting zoo – which happens to be right next door to an American army base from which the first zombies of a potentially deadly outbreak are emerging. It falls to kindergarten teacher Audrey, washed-up musician/chaperone Dave, and alcoholic kids’ TV icon Teddy McGiggle to corral a group of six-year-olds out of harm’s way until help arrives.
I think it goes without saying that this is a unique and entertaining idea for a comedy-thriller. Where you’d think zombie tropes would become tiring after seeing them time and time again, I’m constantly impressed by the zombie apocalypse genre in that it always finds ways to keep it fresh – keeping the genre alive, even when its characters are not. In “Little Monsters,” the juxtaposition between hyperactive kindergarteners and flesh-eating zombies carries the entire movie with its endless novelties: undead puppets, convoluted games of tag and even zombies that sing along to “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” The driving force of the movie, at times, is Audrey’s desire to keep the mood light and fun and the kids from losing their absolute goddamn minds.
“Little Monsters” has a pretty interesting cast of characters. There’s Dave (played by Alexander England), the former “rock star” who probably feels right at home standing on a roof with hordes of people trying to grab him. Kids’ show personality Teddy McGiggle, played by a Josh Gad who is clearly enjoying himself, probably ruins about 15 to 20 childhoods over the course of the movie. And Lupita Nyong’o’s Audrey – who is called “Miss Caroline” by her students – may be prim and proper compared to her two edgy foils, but once you watch her taking down zombies with a shovel, you’ll be convinced she’s the one you want on your side when the dead rise.
Like it though I do, there are a few slight bumps in the road when it comes to logic that began to eat at me (geddit). At times, it seems as if this group isn’t eager to escape the hordes at all. Sure, it’s entertaining to watch Lupita Nyong’o slice off zombies’ heads, but I couldn’t help but think that it would have been much easier for her just to run through them. They’re slow zombies, for goodness sakes, and the lives of these children are at stake! I had the same feeling when the group had to stop the tractor and get out on account of a horde of zombies devouring a dead cow, when it would have been far safer to simply drive around it. And when it actually came time to escape, that Dave’s nephew’s “Chekov’s tractor obsession” was the reason they were able to drive the thing and make it out alive was just too convenient for words.
But I have to say, my main gripe about the movie is that the trailer completely misled me. I had initially assumed this would be a movie about Audrey, but the beginning was all Dave, all the time. And I have to say, Dave is a complete asshole, and they really want to rub that in. If I had just been shown the beginning of this film, it would have been extremely hard for me to connect it to the trailer I was excited about at all. It’s all just Dave’s failing relationship, Dave being awful to his sister, Dave being a bad influence on his nephew, Dave being gross around women and hitting on a teacher with a ring – I hate this guy! He’d have to have a hell of a character arc to get me to like him after that. And since Teddy McGiggle was already pretty despicable, Dave seemed a little redundant at times. I would rather have had Audrey as the main character – I know she doesn’t have as dramatic an arc, but I wouldn’t have complained if we’d gotten to delve deeper into her history instead of focusing so much on Dave. The other solution might have been to make Dave a Works Too Much Dad instead of an incredibly bad uncle – there is more than one way to start the journey towards learning responsibility.
While “Little Monsters” isn’t my favorite zombie movie that has come out in recent years (It is “Train to Busan,” if you were wondering!) or my favorite zombie comedy…zomedy (“Shaun of the Dead!”) it is most certainly one of the most unique zombie films you’ll ever see. And it actually got a lot of laughs out of me, for the ridiculousness of some of its moments. Dave ends his arc by singing acoustic Taylor Swift songs to children. Teddy downs bottles of rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer when he runs out of liquor. What makes “Little Monsters” worth watching is the sheer spectacle of it all. And if you’re looking for a lighthearted zombie film to take your mind off things in the strangest way possible, I recommend it.
Blogs Editor’s Note: Apologies on behalf of myself and the Blogs section for the lack of online content lately. It’s been quite a shuffle for everyone to convert to digital classes, and for a lot of people (myself included), returning home is the least effective way to make yourself productive. Between that and the lack of on-campus happenings, you can expect to see a dip in Blogs content for the rest of the semester. I hope to be able to keep up with Reel Talk during this time, but I will not be going to the movies, so I apologize if any of my posts are a little outdated (This one certainly is!). Stay healthy and safe. – Kate