'Little Monsters' Review: The Australian Zombie Comedy Is A Bloody Laugh Riot [Sundance]

There's an endless number of zombie movies out there. So if you're going to tackle this particular horror subgenre, you better have something unique to bring to the table. Thankfully, Australian filmmaker Abe Forsythe has exactly that. This the heartwarming story of an irresponsible, immature, and profane uncle and his adorable, gluten-intolerant, tractor and Darth Vader-obsessed nephew. But it's blended it with a 1980s-inspired zombie invasion, and the result is a bloody laugh riot called Little Monsters.

Little Monsters follows failed heavy metal rocker Dave (Alexander England), who is forced to live with his sister Tess (Kat Stewart) after a messy break-up leaves him alone and totally dejected. Rather than clean up his act, Dave seems to regress even more into immaturity, especially when it comes to behaving appropriately around his five-year old nephew Felix (played by the super cute Diesel La Torraca). Dave doesn't hold back from letting Felix play violent video games or buy into his gluten allergy. But he has no problem using him in a last ditch effort to get back his girlfriend. Needless to say, the desperate attempt involving Felix in a Darth Vader costume and a pizza box proposal doesn't go well at all, but it does result in some huge laughs.

The only recourse Dave has is a quick rebound. He sees that opportunity upon meeting Felix's sweet and delightful kindergarten teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong'o). Nyong'o is the bewitching anchor of the movie who brings some semblance of sanity to the totally mad and violent proceedings. Once the zombie invasion begins during a school field trip to the Pleasant Valley Farm petting zoo and mini-golf destination (which is hilariously situated right next to a military testing facility), Miss Caroline has no problem keeping the kids calm. She not only somehow convinces them this is all a big game of tag, but she brings the magic of singing Taylor Swift's song "Shake It Off" on ukulele.

Honestly, it's kind of amazing that the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave actress is in a movie that is full of crass, vulgar, and juvenile humor. But as the movie unfolds and the zombie invasion is unleashed, it becomes clear that there's a little more happening under the hood. This isn't just a simple zombie comedy using profanity and inappropriate behavior for laughs. And it's not just using zombies just for the sake of blood and gore. It's a movie about subverting personal expectations, growing up when it matters most, and understanding that not everyone should be defined by their perceived surface-level strengths and weaknesses, whether it's in the throes of childhood or in the struggle of adulthood.

While Dave's behavior and antics will undoubtedly come off as infantile, that's the point. His arc is one that we've seen in movies like this before, whether it's Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead, but Alexander England does such a fine job evolving from overgrown boy to responsible adult. It's not easy to care about characters like this, but there's a charm to Dave's idiocy that you can't resist, especially in his unseemly interactions with the super cute and funny Felix.

Meanwhile, Nyongo's role also goes against the grain of this kind of character in a different way. Though she's perceived as a good, Christian teacher who's always bright in the worst situations, Miss Caroline isn't perfect, and she's not always sunny. She proves that spectacularly when she has to mow down a zombie horde at a crucial moment. Even the engagement ring she wears has a story behind it that audiences might not expect, making this kindergarten teacher a wonderful woman in more ways than one.

However, the scene stealer of this whole affair is Josh Gad. That's right, the voice of the magical snowman Olaf in Frozen is in this brash, violent zombie comedy as a children's television host character named Teddy McGiggle. At first he puts on a goofy voice, gleefully performing with his frog puppet pal, much to the children's delight. But as soon as the shit hits the fan, ole Teddy McGiggle couldn't give a fuck about these kids. He won't let anyone into the gift shop he's hiding in, and he has no respect for children's ears (or even adult ears for that matter). He's more tactless and insane than anyone in the movie. Sure, Dave might swear in front of kids and only goes on a field trip to hit on his nephew's teacher, but Teddy has slept with countless mothers while on tour, chugs rubbing alcohol when the real liquor runs out, and is the worst manifestation of contemporary toxic masculinity. It's hysterical and despicable all at once, and Gad's performance is through-the-roof nuts and hilarious.

Where Little Monsters stumbles, though, is on the technical side of things. At times, the movie feels a little too...cheap. Yes, this is a an indie movie, so we can cut them a bit of a break. But there are times when it feels like a television production instead of a feature film, especially when it comes to the quality of the zombie make-up for the hundreds of extras utilized for the movie. Of course, there's a great one-liner where a kid points out that they don't even look real, so maybe all should be forgiven just for that sense of self-awareness. Still, Abe Forsythe's greatest strengths in Little Monsters lie in his humor and heart, and those are in ample supply.

Little Monsters isn't a groundbreaking piece of independent cinema, but it's a raucously funny horror comedy with a little more bubbling beneath its surface than you might expect. Thanks to some outstanding and dedicated comic performances, Little Monsters is another great entry in the zombie comedy subgenre that deserves your attention.

Neon and Hulu sparked a partnership deal to pick up Little Monsters at Sundance, but it doesn't have a release date yet.

/Film rating: 8 out of 10