Little Monsters (Cert 15)

1 Disc DVD/Blu-ray (Distributor: Altitude Films) Running Time: 94 minutes approx.

Kids eh? Who’d have them? Sure, they may be cute for the first few years of their lives and their naivety is endearing but they can also be a handful. In the worst case scenario of a major catastrophe, the kids are the ones adults need to stay calm and level-headed for, which isn’t always easy.

Washed up rocker Dave (Alexander England) has had his final vicious row with girlfriend Sara (Nadia Townsend) and moved out, turning to older sister Tess (Kat Stewart) for support. Unfortunately, Dave’s pig headedness and improper behaviour in front of and involving five year-old nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca) pushes Tess to her limit as well, forcing him to shape up or ship out.

To earn his keep, Dave has to take Felix to school, meeting Felix’s teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o) and becoming smitten with her, so much so, he volunteers to act as a chaperone for the trip to a zoo park the next day. Everything goes as smoothly as they can and the kids happy to see TV entertainer Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad) in person, but next door at a US army base, a zombie outbreak spills into the park.

If there is one subgenre in film likely to be resistant to change it is the zombie movie, though this is not for the lack of trying. It’s a cliché but one does have to refer to Shaun Of The Dead as the catalyst for the zombie move resurgence including the straight up horror vehicles, but that was 16 years ago, and the imitators have come and gone in abundance.

Little Monsters, from Aussie director Abe Forsythe, is aware that it cannot reinvent the wheel but does try a different tact in using zombies for comedy whilst imparting a feel good message of personal redemption. That probably sounds like a stretch for what is a one note concept but it works, it just requires the audience to view it as a black comedy with zombies in it, rather than about them.

Don’t take this as a disappointment however, the zombie horror aspect is well done and as graphic as any, with literal hordes of drooling, shuffling, fetid undead separated from their heads or being blown to bits via gunfire, with blood gushing everywhere. In terms of nervous tension and suspense, Forsythe proves a deft hand in presenting a legit grisly experience that blends surprisingly well with the rest of the content.

For the first portion of the film, it appears Forsythe is aiming for the US teen gross out movie audience to the point it doesn’t register the setting is Australia until a little later. Not that Australia isn’t noted for its own lewd, base humour but there is a lot of riffing on the American Pie type playbook here, such as the running theme of the adults and their inappropriate behaviour and language in front of the children.

Admittedly, it is the youngsters that make these awkward moments funnier; when Dave decides to propose to Sara after their latest bust up, he enlists Felix to help, dressing him up as Darth Vader to deliver the message. Instead they catch Sara in flagrante with a co-worker and all hell breaks out as expected, yet it works so well because of the tiny Darth Vader amidst this adult-rated chaos. 

Humour is a subjective thing yet paradoxically universal in general terms, but there are some native quirks that don’t always travel so well. This becoming a running gag might prove tiresome for some, but the script cleverly turns this into a meta comment on adult hypocrisy. Teddy McGiggle teaches kids the Bad Word song for them to sing whenever an adult curses; during the zombie lockdown, loveable Teddy reveals his true, uncouth, foul-mouthed self in front of the children who naturally sing his own song back at him!

The other central subplot is Dave’s lessons in responsibility when being relied upon to be the sensible adult around Felix and the rest of the class, a façade he at first struggles to maintain in front of the virtuous Miss Caroline. Except she has a past too but found her salvation in teaching kids, which is passed on to Dave via osmosis. Something that can be praised here is the fact race is not once brought up, either seriously or in humour, sparing us any edgy content about a white guy listing after a black woman.

In fact, there are a few life lessons carefully woven into the script that surprise us given the overt crudeness of the foul language, horror violence, and misanthropic attitude of Teddy, a tragic totem of being a children’s entertainer with issues. The essence of this facet of the story can be distilled into something akin to a light family movie, which adds a layer of intelligence to the way it has been applied to a zombie movie instead.

Most people will question Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o’s involvement in this film but her tremendous presence and professionalism elevates it above its lowbrow trappings. Turning fragrant, ukulele playing Miss Caroline into a relentless zombie exterminating protector of children is effortless through Nyong’o’s innate charisma and commitment to the physical side.

On the other hand, fans of Frozen might struggle to hear the voice of jolly snowman Olaf, Josh Gad, spitting out every rude word know to man (including the “C” word), even if Teddy is a satire on separating the art from the artist. Alexander England proves an amiable enough loser turned good guy as Dave but we also must praise the younger cast to, especially the amazingly named Diesel La Torraca as Felix.

Little Monsters doesn’t exactly reinvent the zombie movie wheel but by choosing a lesser explored theme to build around, it makes it mark in a different way, providing substance beyond the gore and genre conventions. And if you’ve ever wanted to hear Taylor Swift via the ukulele, this is the film for you.

 

Extras:

English Language 5.1 & 2.0

English HOH Subtitles

 

Rating – ***

Man In Black

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