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MOVIES: Little Monsters - Review [Sundance 2019]

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Little Monsters opens with a series of arguments between Dave (Alexander England) and his longtime girlfriend, the last of which results in him moving in with his sister and her wide-eyed, precocious five-year-old son Felix (Diesel La Torraca). A lifetime of playing videogames and writing metal ballads has left Dave ill-equipped to serve as anything close to a role model, but after meeting Felix's alluring kindergarten teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong'o), he tries to position himself as a positive influence on the boy.

When an opportunity to chaperone the class field trip to a local petting zoo presents itself, Dave leaps at the chance to spend an entire day getting close to Miss Caroline. Unfortunately, the petting zoo happens to be next door to a military testing facility, where an experiment has gone off the rails and unleashed a horde of zombies into the surrounding area. As the undead shamble their way onto the farm, Dave finds himself barricaded inside a gift shop with Miss Caroline, fifteen kindergarten students, and a children's TV personality named Teddy McGiggles (Josh Gad).

Director Abe Forsythe (who also wrote the screenplay) hits upon a unique plot device as Miss Caroline, hell-bent on preventing the children from being terrorized, keeps them calm by strumming Taylor Swift songs on a ukelele and convinces them the zombie invasion is all an elaborate game. "It's like tag," she tells the kids, "and those funny-looking people are 'it,' so don't let them touch you." When someone needs to venture out and retrieve medical supplies, Miss Caroline has no qualms about resorting to violence, and there's something undeniably awesome about watching Nyong'o, clad in a bright yellow sundress, decapitating zombies with a shovel.

England is likable in a hapless slacker sort of way, although his irresponsible choices make him a bit difficult to sympathize with at some times. Gad, on the other hand, is hilarious as a beloved kiddie TV celebrity with a laundry list of vices, including a drinking problem (at one point, fresh out of actual booze, he resorts to swigging hand sanitizer) and a deeply entrenched sex addiction. "I've fucked so many moms," he confesses to a dumbfounded Dave. "I can't help myself."

With a guitar-playing protagonist, a surprisingly sweet love story and a gaggle of adorable kids, not to mention a generous helping of blood and gore -- "it's strawberry jam," insists Miss Caroline -- Little Monsters feels like a bizarre mashup of School of Rock and Shaun of the Dead, with a little Zombieland thrown in for good measure. It's ever-present vulgarity may prove exasperating for some viewers, but fans of the aforementioned films should have a blast with this one.

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