Almost nothing that happens in Little Monsters will surprise you. People die comically horrible deaths, kids say and do cute things, characters become better versions of themselves by the end. It’s a greasy cheeseburger of a movie, utterly predictable in every way. But, hey, sometimes you want a greasy cheeseburger.
Little Monsters feels like a movie created exclusively during a series of hangovers because everything about it plays to base impulses. Writer/director Abe Forsythe’s film centers on Dave (Alexander England), a stunted man-child and musician who really hasn’t done anything with his life. His crumbling relationship with his girlfriend ends, in part, because she wants kids and he doesn’t. A final bit of assholery winds up with him kicked out of their shared apartment and surfing the couch at his sister’s place, where he proceeds to be a terrible influence on moppet nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca). Dave masturbates, mopes, and tries to use Felix’s cuteness to win back his old flame to no avail. When his sister Kat gives him an ultimatum to start pulling his weight or find somewhere else to stay, Dave takes Felix to school, where he becomes sleazily smitten with kindergarten teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o, having a busy year).
Attempting to get closer to Miss Caroline, Dave sells himself as a savior to his single-mom sister and volunteers to help chaperone an upcoming field trip to the Pleasant Valley petting zoo. The kids’ attraction just happens to be next to a mini-golf course which also happens to be an American military installation where experiments on something called “Project Regeneration” are being conducted.
Anyone who’s ever seen a movie where undead people stalk the living to bite into their flesh can figure out what happens next.
The formula at the core of Little Monsters is raunch + kids + zombies. But once Dave’s character arc starts turning to competence and redemption, he’s not quite the best vehicle for gross shock-humor. Thankfully, Josh Gad picks up that slack with aplomb, making kids’ TV celebrity Teddy McGiggle a despicable narcissist who preys on moms and drinks hand sanitizer when nothing else is around.
Every plot beat in Little Monsters is a gimme—the lost Asian tourists trying to find the golf course become hapless victims, the general leading the military containment operation barks with predictable toughness, and McGiggles’ sidekick turns a sock puppet into a thing of terror. And just like sloppy bites of a cheeseburger, you’ll be thinking “this is so bad for me, but it tastes so good.”
Nyong’o’s range as Audrey Caroline saves this movie. She gamely offers up tenderness and toughness in her scenes with child actors and shambling flesh-eating zombies. While England and Gad hoot and ham it up, Nyong’o delivers moments that feel genuine and sincere, even when she’s shoving a sharp piece of broken merch into Teddy’s gut to keep him in line. She shines in the action scenes, too, with one particularly gory sequence climaxing with her bright yellow dress covered in blood (which has been a focus of the promotional materials). The end result isn’t pretty but it gets the job done, just like Little Monsters itself.
Little Monsters screened at SXSW in March 2019.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.