Little Monsters | SXSW Movie Review

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The other day my wife and I passed by a preschool, and I asked “Have you ever thought about how scary it must be to drop your kid off and have no idea what they’re doing? Who’s watching them and how do you know they’re taken care of?”

Yes, it’s a bit of a naive question from someone undoubtedly lacking the mental fortitude required to handle child-rearing, but the fear associated with trusting a group of strangers to protect and nurture your child during the day is a common one. Embracing it, director Abe Forsythe’s latest feature Little Monsters takes that ball of worry and manipulates it into an instrument for joy.

The film stars Alexander England as Dave, a washed-up man-baby musician who instantly falls for his nephew’s beautiful school teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o). Seeing it as an opportunity to get closer to her, Dave signs up to accompany the class on a field trip to a local petting zoo. Unfortunately, the zoo is down the road from a zombie infested military complex who escape to find fresh meat. It’s up to Dave, Miss Caroline, and TV personality Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad) to protect the children from the undead and get them back to safety.

For a film listed as a Horror/Comedy Little Monsters leans heavily into its humorous side, so those looking for a scare should turn elsewhere. However, the film has plenty of fun with the gore, and decapitations abound as much as the jokes do. The decision to embrace the comedic is the correct one as the film secretly has more interest in the heartfelt, and what could have been a tonal mess blends together with sincerity.

Before the screening, Forsythe came out to reveal the inspiration for the film came from the anxiety he felt as his child started school. The director wanted to convey how strong he felt today’s teachers have to be to juggle numerous children while maintaining a calm and steady demeanor even in volatile situations. He pulls this off without question. The film is an ode to those who sacrifice so much to shape the minds of children, and because it has committed to its brand of comedy the underlying message never overwhelms. It lifts up the film during the slower moments.

Miss Caroline’s dedication to not only protecting the class physically but mentally as well is equal parts inspiring and ridiculous. Leading a “Wheels on the Bus” sing-along as a distraction from the horde of the undead on their tail is only the tip of the iceberg for the film. Nyong’o shines in her role, bouncing from a fairy godmother-esque teacher to a badass willing to stab anything alive or dead that threatens her class. She is the glue, and Gad is the glitter. He is playing to the rafters with an over the top performance that feels extreme even for this movie. It mostly lands, but will grate on the senses of a small sector of the audience.

Although it’s more comedy than horror, Little Monsters finds a way to shine amongst its peers thanks to an excellent cast and a lot of heart. You’ll be lost in laughter, and if you aren’t careful you’re bound to stumble into a patch of feelings you didn’t see coming.