'Little Monsters' Review: A Zom-Com With Hearts Both Beating and Otherwise (Fantasia 2019)

Prepare to fall for both Lupita Nyong'o and Josh Gad... for different reasons, obviously.

Little Monsters

So many zombie movies, so little time. Their numbers dwindle, though, when you narrow the undead field to those films hungrier for laughs than human flesh. From Return of the Living Dead (1985) to Dead Alive (1992) to Juan of the Dead (2011), it’s a sub-genre with more than a few fantastic entries, and now one more can be added to the hilariously bloody family. Little Monsters finds a zombie outbreak unfolding as a romance blossoms, but the focus of the tale is an overdue love letter to the people we trust to watch over and educate our children five days a week — teachers. The best ones kick ass, and this is the story of one who kicks zombie ass too.

Dave (Alexander England) is a slacker whose confidence that he’ll make it as a musician is balanced out by his complete lack of real effort. His behavior catches up to him one day, and soon he’s without both a girlfriend and a band. Forced to move in with his sister, her kindness is in exchange for his help caring for her son/his nephew, but his abilities as an adult are put to the test when he chaperones the boy’s class on a field trip solely to get closer to the teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o). Wooing her is his initial goal for the day, but it takes second place behind survival when a zombie outbreak traps them all during a park excursion to see a popular kids entertainer named Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad).

Little Monsters is a hilarious and bloody appreciation of how hard great teachers fight for our kids, and it manages plenty of thrills alongside the laughs. Writer/director Abe Forsythe follows up his brilliantly funny and traumatic comedy about racism (Down Under, 2016) with something far sweeter and lighter while also being quite a bit bloodier. It’s an absolute joy, and while it stumbles in the romance department every other element works to leave viewers giggling and gasping.

The film is a top to bottom comedy with both horror and romance woven throughout, but while the genre elements work beautifully with scares and gory beats complementing the laughs, the romance never finds its footing. It’s through no fault of the actors as Alexander is a fun performer and it’s impossible *not* to fall in love with Nyong’o, but the script gives zero reason to believe (or want) Caroline to fall for Dave. He’s a man-child who entertains in short bursts or from a distance, but if he was your real-world acquaintance you’d only have time for him once or twice a month. His obnoxiousness and irresponsibility are played for laughs, but they quickly grate leaving you disappointed and disbelieving when Caroline takes a shine back.

Still, while the romance is the least believable element in a movie about a zombie outbreak it’s not nearly enough to stop or smother the fun. There are big laughs to be found here from all three leads with Nyong’o having a clear blast being both a part of the comedy and often a source of it. She displays a fantastic delivery and timing that helps deliver laughs whether through her own dialogue or her reaction to others. It’s Gad who absolutely shreds your funny bone, though, with a character who’s both reminiscent of your favorite children’s entertainer and absolutely disrespectful towards them. It’s glorious. (His bosses at Disney may not want to watch his performance here, although it would be their loss.)

The film doesn’t quite skimp on the bloodletting (as evidenced by the pic above), and we get plenty of zombie action beats as our heroes try to weave in and around the clamoring undead. Some of it happens off-screen, unfortunately, but the shenanigans come fast and fun leaving little room for disappointment on that front. Forsythe crafts some suspenseful sequences along the way too involving near-misses and escape attempts, and all of it combines for a quick and entertaining watch.

Little Monsters has fun with the idea that kids are trouble, but it makes room for their sweetness too. Unlike 2014’s equally funny Cooties which turned the kids into the monsters, the kindergartners here are the potential victims with only a handful of adults standing between them and a grisly death. It’s not often that I watch a horror movie rooting for the children to survive, but this is one of those occasions due as much to their adorableness as to Miss Caroline’s dedication. That’s no small triumph in a zom-com that’s bloody, just gory enough, and super entertaining.

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