By: Tyrone Barrozo, Columnist
With Halloween coming soon, people are probably looking for some holiday fun. Kids will be making memories as they go trick-or-treating, and parents will be busy handing out treats and taking too many photos of their costumed children. It’s a time for vampires, werewolves, and spirits.
“Little Monsters” is a horror-comedy film which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and is currently streaming on Hulu. The story’s premise centers on a washed-up loser-type character, Dave, who finds his way chaperoning for his nephew’s field trip to creep on the kindergarten teacher Audrey Caroline, played by Lupita Nyong’o.
While on the field trip, however, Dave and Audrey discover that the location is infested with the undead and must find a way to survive with a herd of little kids. Now, I thought that this idea was rather interesting but I was a bit disappointed in the execution.
I do believe that there are a few calls for praise to be made. Nyong’o’s acting felt strong and convincing, and this film serves as a great addition to her filmography, as her ability to deliver deadpan comedy really stood out in this movie. I was actually surprised by Diesel La Torraca, who plays Dave’s nephew, Felix, and his performance as well. A lot of the times, I’m rather cautious when it comes to child actors, especially since their performances can be rather hit or miss.
I also thought that there were a couple of interesting camera shots in the film and by “a couple” I really meant a couple — there are two top-down aerial camera shots that actively flexed it’s “this-was-played-at-Sundance” muscles. However, it was only the first aerial shot that seemed to catch my eye because of Audrey’s attire (a bright yellow sundress) and its contrast with her students’ pale blue school uniforms in this slow-moving conga line. The second shot, which was captured in the same way, proved forgettable to me and only stood out because I remembered it as the one image that was just a rehash of the aforementioned scene.
Speaking of rehashing, I felt that there was a lot of thematic copycatting. Films like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Zombieland” have acquired a following for being standouts in a genre that has picked, chopped, and served the walking dead schtick across multiple decades by managing to maintain their own brand of sorts. “Shaun of the Dead” manages to stand out with its amazing director, Edgar Wright, and his own brand of visual comedy which engages the audience by subverting the expectations of a tense and suspenseful zombie film and heightens the comedy due to proper narrative tone setting. “Zombieland” manages to stand out just through sheer force of its script, which was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who would both later write for the “Deadpool” films. As for “Little Monsters,” it chooses to take bits and pieces from its predecessors but in a way that feels disjointed tonally at times.
For instance, for the first act of the story, Dave comes off as a bit of a loser—not a lovable loser, just a loser. I get that the film really wanted to establish how selfish Dave was in the beginning, but they really could’ve done it in a way that was a bit less obvious. By that, I mean to say that there’s quite a bit of shock and gross-out humor, which was expected considering the involvement of the undead, which tries to reflect the character’s state of mind and whatnot in exchange for cheap laughs.
But then, as you get into the second act, the film’s approach to humor changes noticeably—much like Dave as a person (completely subtle, it’s honestly a masterclass in writing in case you haven’t noticed already). The jokes are a lot more deadpan and sleight with the exception of Josh Gad’s character, a Pee-Wee Herman-esque TV host who finds himself struggling to survive during the zombie breakout, who regularly curses at a small class of children to abandon all hope as Audrey tries to veil the truth to them à la Roberto Benigni. And, again, it seemed like the change might have been some sort of parallel with Dave’s character development but it really seemed rushed and underdeveloped. After one intimate talk with Audrey about their pasts, Dave decides to play “Sweet Caroline” on a ukulele to lull the children to sleep and charm his way into her arms.
Also, small nitpick, this is a zombie film that just so happens to break the unspoken rule about zombie films — that is to never refer to the monsters as “zombies.”
Overall, I thought the movie was okay. Would I watch it again? Probably not, but that’s not to say that it’s terrible. The movie had charm and I liked that. It seemed like a really good movie for a proper cable-edit—you know, something to put on in the background over dinnertime that no one really pays attention to. Or, better yet, get a couple of friends, a couple of drinks, stay in, and watch it on Halloween night.