Little Monsters is a zombie comedy that isn't entirely successful

Lupita Nyong'o, centre, as school teacher Miss Caroline in Little Monsters. Picture: Simon Cardwell
Lupita Nyong'o, centre, as school teacher Miss Caroline in Little Monsters. Picture: Simon Cardwell

Little Monsters (MA15+)

3 stars

Another week, another zombie movie. Who would have thought the humble zombie would have ended up the winner of the supernatural pop culture crown?

Perhaps we are embarrassed with ourselves for salivating over all those werewolf-vampire Twilight films for far too long.

Perhaps, for filmmakers, a zombie film is about the chase, not the ghoul-chasing.

In Little Monsters, the monsters are actually perfectly healthy alive human kindergarten children.

Lupita Nyong'o is their teacher Miss Caroline. She's that dream of a kindy teacher the dads crush on, vibrant and funny, quick to whip out her ukulele and have the kids join her in belting out Taylor Swift songs.

Alexander England's Dave is uncle to one of the kids in her class, and despite being an unrepentant monster of a different kind throughout the film - the selfish man-child - he willingly agrees to chaperone a kindy excursion to a petting zoo to get closer to Miss Caroline.

More exciting than baby goats and koalas for the kids is the presence of Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), an international children's television sensation, filming an episode in the park.

Actual monsters crash the party - an American military base next door is ground zero for some infectious virus, and next thing you know zombies are running amok, converting the amusement park guests.

Dave, Miss Caroline and McGiggle barricade themselves in the park gift shop and think of ways to keep the kids alive and safe, and distract them from the horror outside.

Abe Forsythe made, in my opinion, the best film to come out of decades of Tropfest - the 2010 short film Shock - and a few years back he did the unthinkable and squeezed some laughs out of the Cronulla riots with Down Under.

Here he plays horror for laughs, and he is fearless at working in areas that might make some uncomfortable, juxtaposing gore and horror against innocent children.

Sometimes that horror is just the obscene dialogue Dave or McGiggle speak in front of their child co-stars, and even though you know it's all careful filming and editing, and the young kids will never even hear the dialogue until they're old enough to watch the MA film they starred in, it still shocks.

Which is an achievement because we're all a bit jaded and hard to shock these days.

Forsythe isn't entirely successful, in that this feels like two films smashed together.

Every scene with Oscar- winner Lupita Nyong'o in it is a five-star film.

Like the sunshine yellow dress she wears, she outshines everything around her. Her performance is warm, and she brings the best out of her costars.

Miss Caroline is Sarah Connor-level fierce in her determination to keep her kids innocent of the world around them, with a song or an imaginative game to explain away the blood and the overnight sleepover far from home.

Josh Gad in Little Monsters. Picture: Supplied

Josh Gad in Little Monsters. Picture: Supplied

Elsewhere, though, the film feels ill-shaped or not entirely thought through.

England's natural charisma struggles against a character with few redeeming features.

There is no end to the number of films about a man-child's path to maturity and redemption, but Dave stays unlikeable for so long you no longer care about him.

Josh Gad's character is jarringly inconsistent.

I sound like my mother when I say "I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed", because this film has all of the right ingredients.

Forsythe's achievement in attracting two luminous international figures is impressive.

The production team's gore and zombie makeup is great, although I did wonder how some had the old-school Walking Dead four-years-rotting-in-the Atlanta-sun look when the supposed zombie-generating incident happened that same day at a military base a few hundred metres away.

The makeup team's zombie with a face full of echidna quills is next-level good, and I expect to see this as a figurine on comic book shops in years to come.

The child stars are believable and unsaccharine, and young Diesel La Torraca as Dave's nephew Felix is the star of the show.

This story Zombie comedy misses mark first appeared on The Canberra Times.