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MOVIES: Little Monsters (LFF 2019) - Review

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Little Monsters is a zombie comedy, the latest in the long line of them, that opts for a familiar but no less fun take on the genre that benefits from the star power of lead actress Lupita Nyong’o, who plays a teacher of a group of a school children who has to oversee their protection when zombies overrun a nearby US Military base that happens to be right next to a popular tourist attraction for families and young children.

The film itself, due a release with Hulu in the United States, has plenty of likeability and charm about it that plays strongly in its favour. Josh Gad plays a beloved children’s TV personality who also happens to be at the same event, and Alexander England plays Dave, a character who has just left his girlfriend. He’s not in the best of states, pretending he’s still part of a band when in reality he’s just a busker, and enlists his nephew to dress up as Darth Vader in a last ditch manipulative attempt to get his girlfriend back on his side, only for them both to walk in on her having sex with another man, creating plenty of awkward situations for the characters. It doesn't take long to establish early on that Dave is a pathetic loser who needs to get his life in order, and the chance at redemption comes during the middle of a zombie apocalypse.

The film keeps itself mostly to one location aside from the opening act and benefits from keeping things largely close and personal. Music plays a key role in the drama as the adults have to convince the children that it’s all still a game, and this is the best Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off has been used on screen since the singalong in the first season of SyFy’s fantasy drama The Magicians. Both Dave and Nyong’o’s character Caroline have a shared musical connection that plays to both of their strengths (no matter how much Dave hates Taylor Swift regardless of Caroline's ability to play the song on the ukulele), and although it is not exactly a fully blown musical, it does draw comparisons to last year’s indie zombie musical Anna and the Apocalypse, which it would make a great double feature with.

Much of the humour delights in putting kids in situations where they have to encounter swear words, and we soon find out that Gad’s Teddy McGiggle isn’t afraid to drop f-bombs when he’s off script and around children. The performances by the kids are believable and impressive, with highlights including one of the children pointing out that the zombies themselves look fake. All of the cast looks like they’re having a lot of fun in their roles, and that’s reflected in their characters. Something that's worth singling out is just how good Diesel La Torraca is here, relishing every chance his character gets to drive a tractor and don a Darth Vader costume. The chemistry between the cast gives the drama a lively feel and raises the quality of the concise script (which comes with a longer than expected intro) and you totally buy England and La Torraca as Uncle and Nephew.

Despite there being a relatively recent zombie comedy in the form of Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die that opted for a bleaker tone that worked in its own right, director Abe Forsythe gives the movie a lighter touch that gives the two films a clear distinction. It’s accessible and friendly in a way that isn’t off-putting and caters to a large audience, blending humour and heart together nicely. It’s a little too early to call Little Monsters a cult classic as it’s a little too predictable to maintain much in the way of surprises, which is always a risk when traversing a genre as well trodden as this one, but despite any misgivings there’s plenty to love here, and Shaun of the Dead fans will feel right at home.

Tickets for Little Monsters are currently available to buy here for the London Film Festival. The film currently has no set US release date, but will be available in the United Kingdom on a wider theatrical release in November. Check out the trailer here.

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