Movie Review: “Little Monsters”

At this point in time, if you’re going to make a zombie movie, you have to do something different with it.  You can’t just have zombies attack a small group of holdouts in a shopping mall anymore.  We have all seen that movie… at least twice.

Okay then, what if rather than there being a small group of holdouts at a mall, there was a small group of holdouts at a petting zoo, one with minigolf?  And, what if that group of people were mainly a bunch of young children there with their teacher?  Then you could throw in the uncle of one of the kids, and a lying children’s TV personality.  Could that work?

There is no doubt, that this take on the genre provides the necessary spin even while acknowledging that it’s kind of like those movies where the zombie attack the mall (at one point the question is asked whether the zombies are the slow ones or the fast ones).  Written and directed by Abe Forsythe and starring Lupita Nyong’o as the teacher, Miss Caroline; Josh Gad as the TV personality, Teddy McGiggle; and Alexander England as Dave, the terrible uncle, “Little Monsters” ought to have everything going for it that it needs to be a success.

It isn’t.  At least it isn’t fully a success.  It takes an awfully long time for the zombies to appear, leading one to doubt whether they’re actually watching a zombie movie at all or if they’ve been suckered into a traditional rom-com complete with meet-cute for Miss Caroline and Dave.  Then, while no one expects the zombies to be ever-present when they do show, the moments when the living dead aren’t on screen drag the proceedings to a halt.

Zero individuals watching will be surprised that Dave, a loser who refuses to grow up, is going to realize his mistakes and decide to do better, but “Little Monsters” treats it like a revelation.  For a movie so wise in the ways of its zombie antecedents, it treats the rom-com elements as wholly new.  For that matter it also treats the “surprise” that McGiggle isn’t the sweet-and-lovable TV personality he pretends to be as new as well.

All of this is in direct contrast to the zombie elements, which go beyond the above “fast or slow” question and get into how this isn’t the first zombie outbreak, exactly why the zombies exist, and even goes so far as to mock the zombie project being next to the petting zoo.  The zombies here work beautifully, and the scenes with the zombies, particularly a slow-moving chase with a tractor being followed by the undead, are exceptionally amusing.  How could the rest come crashing down so much?

One ought not put the blame on Nyong’o or England or even Gad.  Nyong’o, in particular, serves up a nuanced character.  As the audience learns more and more about Miss Caroline, we grow more intrigued.  This is a fully realized person on the page and Nyong’o brings her to life on the screen.  To its detriment, the film is centered on Dave, who is far more broadly written (as is McGiggle).  Everything about the character is stereotype.  Everything is something we’ve seen before.

Perhaps Dave is meant to serve as the entree to Miss Caroline, that he remains flat so that she can be shown in more sharp relief.  This is a possibility, to be sure, but it isn’t a good one.  It doesn’t make the presentation any better, and it certainly doesn’t cause the audience to stay tuned in.

“Little Monsters” is, as a whole, vaguely amusing.  But, with humans as dead in character as the zombies are in breath/heartbeat, past a very short point, every moment the audience has to deal with the problems of the living that don’t relate to the dead is a moment of boredom.  It isn’t that “Little Monsters” needs more blood and guts, it just needs more heart and soul.

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photo credit:  Neon/Hulu

 

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