A zombie film is probably not what comes to mind when thinking of films that appreciate teachers but after Little Monsters, it makes total sense. Director Abe Forsythe celebrates childhood and the teachers who made it meaningful all the while zombies rip the faces off innocent petting zoo goers. The result is a heartwarming and endlessly funny horror-comedy that will make you want to reach out to former teachers and say thank you.
Dave (Alexander England) doesn’t want kids but his girlfriend does. They fight, a lot. Then David leaves and crashes on his sister’s couch. He’s a little stuck in the past, convinced his band God’s Sledgehammer is going to make it, despite his bandmates quitting six years ago. He’s crass, curses a lot, and allows his five-year-old nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca) to play violent zombie video games. That all changes when he agrees to drop off Felix at school, where he meets Miss Audrey Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o), Felix’s teacher. In order to hang out with her more, David convinces her to let him help with chaperoning the kid’s field trip to the local petting zoo.
Enter the zombies. It’s important to note the zombies are not really all that important, so their origin at a US Army base is easy to go along with, even if there’s no explanation to how they came about. One of the best running jokes throughout the film are the soldiers who make off-hand comments about how they’ve dealt with multiple zombie outbreaks.
Where the heart of the film lies is with Nyong’o’s Audrey and her commitment to keeping the kids safe. From the second the group runs into the zombies, she keeps a smile on her face and reiterates to the kids it’s all a game. Through Taylor Swift songs and classic children’s rhymes, Audrey keeps the spirits up, even when she’s terrified herself. It’s easy to identify the zombies as a representation of real-world events we shelter kids from, but as a way to portray the lengths some people will go to protect children in their stead, it works. Nyong’o sells it so well too, giving Audrey moments of levity and badassery as she fights off zombies. Though Dave starts off as the slacker, England peels off the layers of Dave seamlessly as the film goes on. If anything, the film could do with a bit more focus on Nyong’o, but they each get moments to let their guard down.
Stuck in the gift shop of the petting zoo with Dave, Audrey and the kids is Teddy McGiggle, a kid’s television entertainer who happened to be at the petting zoo that day. The kid’s love him, but when all hell breaks loose, he quickly shows his true colors. Josh Gad handles this over-the-top character with great comedic timing, delivering some of the best lines of the film.
The kids are something else, too. Having a group of ten or so five-year-olds could prove tricky, but each kid just lends credence to how special childhood can be. For the most part, the kids are sheltered from the truth of what’s going on by Audrey, but there are also moments where they get to express how scared they are, proving kids are sometimes the smartest people in the room.
Little Monsters could so easily drop into heavy-handed sentimentality but never does. It’s clever humor and complete understanding of its premise allows it to balance those dramatic moments with the often times raunchy humor. Little Monsters will be one of the best feel good movies of the year.