There is a great divide when it comes to children. While many people view the pint-sized humans as adorable balls of energy, full of spark and shine, others view kids as terrifying, tiny creatures who wreak havoc on the already complicated lives of adults. Abe Forsythe’s absurdly brilliant Little Monsters is about two people who see children from different sides of the coin. However, they are forced to come together to protect a group of Kindergarteners from some very real monsters.
Set in Australia, the film follows Dave (Alexander England) —an outrageous man-child whom after a decade-long relationship is nursing a broken heart and a long-expired dream of being a rock star while sleeping on his big sister's (Nadia Townsend) couch. Unfortunately, Dave’s adult hiatus is interrupted by the presence of his precocious 5-year-old, nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca). Adorably innocent and allergic to nearly everything under the sun, Felix is delighted by his Uncle Dave. Slipping out from under the watchful eye of his doting but ultra-protective mother, Felix becomes privy to Dave’s constant vulgarity and horrifically violent video games.
One day after dropping Felix at school, Dave becomes enamored with the little boy’s stunning and charming Kindergarten teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o). Determined to get to know her better, Dave finds himself volunteering to chaperone a field trip to Pleasant Valley Farm petting zoo. What begins as a routine excursion transforms into a horrifying, bloody zombie Apocalypse with Dave, Miss Caroline and the kids trapped in the midst of it.
Little Monsters is about as crass as a movie can get. For more squeamish moviegoers the numerous violent sequences in the film can go on for a beat too long. However, Josh Gad —who plays insufferable children’s icon Teddy McGiggle—is so deliciously appalling in the role that you can almost entirely forgive the slap-stick moments of comedy sprinkled throughout the film. Gad's atrocious green polka-dotted suit is also a massive highlight.
The film is remarkable because Forsythe manages to bend and fold three genres into each other. The film is at once a romantic comedy, a horror flick, and a family drama. The fact that the filmmaker and the cast are able to hit on all of those delicate beats successfully is a magnificent feat within itself. Nyong’o, of course, is the real stand out here. As Miss Caroline, she is a cherry, Taylor Swift-singing sensation, with deadpan humor, who is constantly doling out life lessons. Despite the absolute terror closing in on her and the children she remains steadfast and fearless. She succeeds in not only protecting them physically but preserving their innocence in the midst of sheer chaos.
One sole gripe with the film was the redeemability of Dave. Though England is incredible in the role, the fact that all of Dave's assinine actions and missteps seem to be swept away by the end of the film felt like a cop-out. Though his monstrous behavior isn’t quite as bad as Teddy’s or the zombies that are quickly multiplying, much of the onus to keep the children content lies with Miss Caroline, but Dave is equally rewarded in the end.
An ode to Kindergarten teachers and everyone else who works tirelessly to protect children and keep them safe, Forsythe has managed to construct a film that will leave you shaking with laughter and weeping with joy. Managing neither to skip out on the witty brilliance of little kids, nor the absolute terror of a zombie invasion, Little Monsters is a brilliant contrast between the grotesque and the magical, which in many ways is precisely what a room full of kindergarteners is.
Little Monsters was reviewed at Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2019.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide