Directed by Abe Foresythe
Starring: Alexander England, Lupita Nyong’o, Josh Gad
No one would blame you if you thought Hulu’s “Little Monsters” was going to be about Lupita Nyong’o
After all, the viral campaign featured her heavily on both the movie’s poster and trailer leading us all to believe we were going to get a heaping helping of the Oscar-winning actress getting her turn to kick zombie ass in Australia.
But what ends up happening in the end is a fairly run of the mill zombie comedy that, though entertaining, isn’t even about Nyong’o’s character, instead kicking the tires on some tired tropes within its comedic sub-genre with a far less captivating character.
Nyong’o does her very best though to lift “Little Monsters” average script and makes it worth the stream alone but feels ultimately like a missed opportunity to tell a more interesting story and an ultimately more fun zombie comedy.
(^A more fun zombie comedy)
“Little Monsters” follows Dave, a washed-up, loser musician who’s been kicked out of his house by his girlfriend for not understanding her feelings regarding child-rearing. He moves into his sister’s house and finds himself in the care of his nephew who’s picked on at school. When Dave discovers his nephew’s school teacher Ms. Caroline he immediately becomes infatuated with her and works up a plan to win her affection by volunteering to go on a class field trip to a petting zoo with the class. When they get there however it appears things have gone horribly wrong as a nearby American military base accidentally unleashes a zombie horde on the class and now Dave and Ms. Caroline must work to stay alive and keep the kids spirits high.
The modern zombie genre is now over 40 years old with dozens of movies and TV shows sprinkled between George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” and AMC’s seemingly undying “The Walking Dead.” With a few notable exceptions here and there since 1968 such as “Shaun of the Dead” and “Train to Busan,” the genre has grown as stale as the shambling corpses its protagonist shoot, stab, smash and murder has grown more and more repetitive over the years. There’s been some attempts at really outlandish ideas such as making the zombies romantic interests in “Warm Bodies,” and making a Christmas musical out of them in “Anna and the Apocalypse” but even those films couldn’t escape many of the tropes we see over and over again in these movies.
(”Anna and the Apocalypse” does have some decent show-stopping tunes though.)
“Little Monsters,” in the trailers at least, appeared to be attempting something new. What if a school teacher had to play dumb in front of her kindergarten students while the apocalypse raged around her? How can the eternal optimism, patience and responsibility needed to control 20 plus ignorant, unattentive, needy, clingy children hold up against the ravenous undead?
There was potential for a very interesting take on a tired genre of film here but director Abe Forsythe bafflingly decides the lead of this film should instead be another mediocre white man who needs the help and charisma of a far more charming female character to learn the power of responsibility and fweelings.
Alexander England isn’t bad per se in his portrayal of Dave but his character is just the same irritating schmuck we all see in these types of movies and frankly not a good person. He’s Safeway brand Shaun of the Dead but without Simon Pegg’s impeccable charm or more importantly Edgar Wright’s directorial finesse and brilliance. He’s a loser but far from the lovable kind as the film seems to think comedy through this character should revolve all around dropping multiple F-bombs and lazy casual sexism at every moment.
Meanwhile, Lupita plays a far more entertaining protagonist who’s relegated to side character in the middle of this catastrophe. She sings, laughs, dances and is just perfect playing this character as she charms her students into believing their playing a “game” of tag with the voracious undead clawing at their windows. How any director could think this character played by an Oscar-winning actress should play out as simply a love interest for such a mediocre hero is just beyond comprehension.
What makes it so infuriating is there are glimpses of how much better this movie could’ve been written throughout the story had they focused on Lupita’s Ms. Caroline instead. Ms. Caroline is eternally optimistic for her students but she alludes to a more pained past at multiple points during the film. She talks about how she caught her ex fiance cheating on her and how she wears her engagement ring still as a defense mechanism to men who keep hitting on her. This all happening while England’s Dave continues to be an insufferable jackass.
The script could’ve worked with that immensely; make it about how Lupita is hiding her pain by pretending, much like how she’s doing with the children in front of the zombies. Talk about how she see’s the need for positivity no matter what, beyond just being there for her kids even in these horrible circumstances because its the only way she can function without falling apart. The movie could’ve really worked with this through the lens of the zombie genre to great comedic affect but again, bafflingly decides the movie is best viewed through the eyes of a frankly shitty white dude.
This all said the movie is fun enough and plenty cute given the children’s often innocent reactions to the carnage around them and Josh Gadd’s puts in a fun short performance as a children’s TV show host who just can’t take it anymore. If you have Hulu there are worst things you can do for an hour a half of your time. As mentioned, Lupita is infuriatingly relegated to a side character in this film but she nonetheless delivers and makes the whole film worth it in the end.
“Little Monsters” is still a missed opportunity in the decaying landscape of the zombie genre and its unfortunate that not even a talented actress such as Lupita could win out the starting protagonist job on such a small movie.
(Seriously, again, how dare you?)
But that’s how it is unfortunately. Despite some major strides in story-telling in Hollywood the last few years, plenty of director’s still think the audience will only enjoy it if its told through the lens of an uninteresting white man in place instead of the far more interesting supporting character, who do tend to be women and people of color.
Hopefully this trope dies along with the tired clichés of the zombie genre in the coming years, lest we have to suffer its shambling corpse again.
Not Holding my breath though…
3 out of 5
You said it, Rick…