'Little Monsters': Film Review | Sundance 2019

Zombies rise up Down Under.

Lupita Nyong'o plays a schoolteacher fighting a zombie invasion in this Australian horror flick co-starring Josh Gad.

A warm-hearted kids film at heart is shaken, stirred and blended with bloody zombie violence and cascades of scabrous sex talk in Little Monsters. Writer-director Abe Forsythe hardly lets a minute go by without trying to top himself when it comes to gross-out humor and sendups of genre tropes, and this Sundance midnight offering enjoys the welcome bonuses of Lupita Nyong’o as an ever-resourceful school teacher and Josh Gad as a loathsome kiddie TV host. A most assured R rating will prevent the natural audience of younger teenagers from seeing this in theaters, but word will no doubt get out about it among horror geeks and stoners. It could not have been more perfectly placed at Sundance than as a midnight attraction.

With “Bad Grandpa” having already been taken by Johnny Knoxville, Forsythe and actor Alexander England settle for “Bad Uncle,” otherwise known as Dave, a shiftless, good-looking, never-made-it Aussie heavy metal rocker who somehow missed his classes in age-inappropriate sex talk. If it’s dirty and vulgar, Dave’s on top of it, catching his ex in flagrante delicto, yelling a lot and helping out his sister Tess (Kat Stewart) by accompanying his Darth Vader-obsessed little nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca) for a few days on a school field trip to Pleasant Valley Farm, a sort of fun fair/petting zoo graced by the presence Teddy McGiggle (Gad), a noxious children’s entertainer in a silly green suit.

The only rays of hope and reason in this little world are provided by the class teacher Miss Caroline (Nyong’o), an upbeat, composed young lady who has a way of rising above the vulgarity and fray without being contaminated by it. But she’s just as susceptible as everyone else to being molested by the zombies, the fruit of some gone-wrong scientific experiments at a U.S. military base (in Australia?).

Said zombies look and move like most movie undeads of the last half-century, although they seem to walk even more slowly and look unusually unfocused, an advantage the little nippers sorely need. Still, there are a lot of them (somewhere in the vicinity of 500 per the end credits roll that names all the actors enlisted for the fun and games), and Felix has to learn that zombies aren’t intimidated by a Darth Vader outfit.

As required, there’s plenty of gore, with the zombies biting and chewing away on human flesh, although from the looks of things none of the arms and legs belong to any of the tykes, who are corralled and otherwise spirited out of harm’s way mainly by Miss Caroline, who will be assured to win a teacher of the month award if they get back to school safely. The part is hardly demanding and will scarcely figure among Nyong’o’s most memorable roles, but she handles the assignment of portraying a capable woman under pressure with lovely finesse without commenting on it via any self-conscious posing.

For his part, England is simultaneously funny and pathetic as a completely uncensored child-man; this guy may never grow up. Gad is good to have around as the all-purpose, scarcely concealed creep you just know will reveal a selfish every-man-for-himself attitude in this moment of mass peril.

Even at just 94 minutes, Little Monsters begins running out of gas before Forsythe gets around to wrapping things up — the zombies are too single-minded in their interest and notably uncreative. The late-stages involvement of the military feels rote and is unfunny compared to what’s come before.

Still, the pic irreverently builds enough good will and comic energy in the early-going to carry it to its conclusion, so it’s bound to gather a cult of some dimension.

Production companies: Made Up Stories, Snoot Productions
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Josh Gad
Director-screenwriter: Abe Forsythe
Producers: Keith Calder, Jess Wu Calder, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Jodi Matterson
Executive producer: Jeanne Snow
Director of photography: Lachlan Milne
Production designer: Sam Hobbs
Costume designer: Leon Krasenstein
Editors: Drew Thompson, Jim May
Music: Piers Burbrook de Vere
Casting: Kimberly Hardin, Kirsty McGregor, Stevie Ray
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Midnight)

94 minutes