At the age of 37, Australian writer and director Abe Forsythe has already had a truly impressive output of films. At the age of 21, he put out the memorable (if maligned) Ned, in the same year as the Heath Ledger film, and has since delivered us great comedies in both short and long form, including the brilliant 2016 film Down Under.
Now comes his follow up, the zombie comedy film Little Monsters, filmed in and around Sydney, though with an international audience in mind, thanks to starring performances from Lupita Nyong’o and Josh Gad, alongside Australia’s Alexander England. The film also features Kat Stewart, musician Okenyo in a small role, and many more.
Premiering earlier this year at Sundance and screening earlier today at SXSW, the film stars Alexander England as Dave, a musician-slash-slacker who, after a break up with his long term partner, is currently living on a couch with his sister and nephew. Taking his nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca) to school after an ill advised late night excursion, he meets Miss Caroline (Nyong’o), and immediately falls for her. When he finds out they need a chaperone on a field trip to a petting zoo (now with mini golf!), he jumps on the chance to get to know her. Long story short, they encounter the zombie apocalypse and get stuck with Josh Gad, playing an much adored touring children’s entertainer.
What follows captures the spirit of a film like Okja – indeed that was a reference, as was Train to Busan – less than something like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. The lead character of Dave is a hard character to love at first, but you still root for him – and that’s because they make Lupita’s Miss Caroline such a wonderful character and Josh Gad even worse of a human being. But really this is Lupita Nyong’o’s film; there’s a reference to her being a super hero in the film, and she very much is, not only holding together all the children, but the man-children around her too. She proves a strong, commanding presence and it’s a joy to see her kick ass as much as it is seeing her play “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift on the ukulele.
And while she commands the film, the heart of the content is about being five years old. The kids are adorable, and Forsyth directs them well, letting them be kids and not aiming for perfection in their performances (but they all do a great job all the same). He does make sure we always remember though that these kids are very cute, and that teachers are amazing. It’s not a film for kids though. There is a lot of profanity, Josh Gad really is the worst human being, and you won’t go home without seeing some nipples.
In all of this, the zombies almost don’t require a mention, because by making them fairly slow and taking away some of the immediate danger other films of the genre may explore (which was even the case for Shaun of the Dead), it allows Forsyth to use them as a plot piece to develop the characters, rather than simply create scares. It also helps produce a beautifully engineered denouement, at which point you truly see the mastery of Forsythe’s script come to life.
Buoyed by hilarious moments, a marvelous performance from Nyong’o, and some great kids, the film is enjoyable from start to finish and an instant classic of the genre.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Little Monsters was reviewed at SXSW and will have an official release in Australia later in the year.