Little Monsters (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Nyong’o could do it alone, I think

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“Little Monsters”, a little zombie comedy film from Australia, works whenever its lead actress appears on the screen, and it is a shame that the movie does not utilize her undeniable talent and presence as much as expected from its trailer. I can easily imagine its better version in which she takes the main stage alone by herself, but, alas, the movie often pays too much attention to two relatively uninteresting main characters in the story, and we always sense its spirit going down whenever it looks away from its heroine.

At the beginning, the movie introduces us to Dave (Alexander England), a young struggling musician going through a stormy breakup with his girlfriend. While he finally leaves her and then comes to stay at his sister’s house, he still wants to mend his damaged relationship with his girlfriend, so he goes to his girlfriend’s residence along with his young nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca) for fixing his problem, but, alas, things do not go as well as he wanted.

When his sister, who has raised her only son alone, asks Dave to take Felix to his elementary school instead of her, Dave reluctantly agrees to do that, but, when he comes to the school along with his nephew, he finds himself quite attracted to Felix’s school teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o), who looks beautiful, charming, and, above all, sexy in her bright yellow dress. When Caroline later happens to need somebody who will supervise Felix and other young students in her class along with her during an upcoming field trip to a farmland park, Dave gladly volunteers, and he certainly expects to get an opportunity to get closer to her during the field trip.

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Anyway, everything goes well for them and those young students on the day of their field trip except a minor problem with their bus, and Felix and his classmates are more excited when they find that Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), the host of a very popular children’s TV show, comes to the farmland park, but we soon see that a big trouble is coming upon them. At a nearby military base belonging to the US Army, zombie outbreak happens due to some botched biological weapon experiment, and the farmland park is subsequently swarmed with a bunch of zombies mindlessly craving for any fresh meat.

Fortunately, these zombies are as slow as the ones shown in Geroge A. Remero’s zombie films instead of being as fast as the ones in the recent zombie movies such as “28 Days Later…” (2002), so Dave and Caroline can easily avoid the zombies along with the young students under their care. For not making her students scared, Caroline lies to them that they are playing a sort of tag game, and they all believe her words without any doubt while doing whatever they are instructed to do by their dear teacher.

Eventually, Dave, Caroline, and her young students find a temporary shelter inside the souvenir shop located in the middle of the farmland part, but the situation still looks pretty bad to say the least. The souvenir shop remains to be surrounded by lots of zombies eager to eat them alive, and Dave and Caroline also have to take care of McGiggle, who was hiding alone in the souvenir shop before they came. While not so cooperative to Dave and Caroline, McGiggle reveals his less pleasant sides in front of her young students, and one of the most amusing moments in the film comes from how Caroline tactfully coerces McGiggle to behave well in front of her young students.

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The movie has some fun with how Caroline is much more courageous and resourceful than two bumbling dudes who happen to be stuck with her, and Lupita Nyong’o, who has steadily advanced since her heartbreaking Oscar-winning supporting turn in “12 Years a Slave” (2013), demonstrates another side of her talent. While looking as serious as possible in her no-nonsense attitude, she also willingly hurls herself into blood and gore for laughs and chuckles, and I also like a small quiet scene later in the film where she effortlessly conveys to us the life and personality of her character without any false sentiment.

However, the screenplay by director/writer Abe Forsythe does not support Nyong’o’s good efforts well on the whole. Despite its rather short running time (94 minutes), the movie often lags especially during its middle act, and it frequently loses its focus and tension during a number of redundant scenes unfolded outside the farmland park. As a result, we become more aware of its weak aspects including thin narrative and superficial characterization, and Alexander England and Josh Gad are hopelessly stuck in their respective one-note roles. While England manages to acquit himself well despite his colorless character, Gad is constantly pushed into bad cases of overacting, and that made me miss his low-key supporting turn in “Jobs” (2013), where he happened to be one of a few saving graces.

In conclusion, “Little Monsters” is funny and entertaining at times, but it does not bring anything particularly new or fresh to its genre territory beyond its whimsical story premise, so I would rather recommend you to watch “Dead Alive” (1992) or “Zombieland” (2009) instead if you want to watch a really funny zombie flick. Yes, it is certainly nice to see Nyong’o doing something quite different from her chilling dual performance in “Us” (2019), but the movie could simply let her do her bloody job alone for more fun and excitement, and I still feel grouchy about that.

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