Little Monsters first published by Little White Lies
“You’re being a child!”, remonstrates Sara (Nadia Townsend) with her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend Dave (Alexander England), at the beginning of Little Monsters, written and directed by Abe Forsythe (Ned,2003; Down Under, 2016).
Sara is not wrong; for the film’s opening montage of the couple endlessly arguing in public places – with cutaways to Dave inhaling a daytime bongload at home, masturbating with his VR headset on, or getting moved on by police while busking with his electric guitar – serves to show that while Dave may be an adult, he is definitely arrested in his development. After he has half-heartedly walked out on Sara and moved onto the sofa of his older sister Tess (Kat Stewart), he proves considerably less mature than his five-year-old nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca). Dave volunteers to join Felix’s class excursion to Pleasant Valley Farm, less out of a good-hearted desire to help out than to get into the pants of Felix’s ever perky teacher Miss Audrey Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o) – but when ravenous zombies break out of the ‘US Army Test Facility’ next door, Dave is going to have to grow up fast.
Much as, in Life Is Beautiful (1997), Roberto Benigni’s Guido maintained the pretence for his young son that their captivity in a Nazi Concentration Camp was all just fun and games, the dedicated Miss Caroline must do something similar (if less rooted in reality) here, covering up the apocalyptic dangers beleaguering her young wards with a song on her ukulele, a good story or two and an irrepressibly positive attitude. This contrasts, at least at first, with Dave’s all-round irresponsibility and unguarded conduct around the children, while even he represents a step up from the narcissistic selfishness of international children’s entertainer Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), who would be as happy as the zombies to eat children if it served his interests. Played with great charm by Nyong’o, Miss Caroline is a kickass heroine, and really ought to be the film’s protagonist – but this is all about Dave, with the other characters, not to mention the armies of walking dead, feeling like mere foils to our main man’s arc from big kidult to carer (and obvious father material).
If Dave and Teddy behave, in their different ways, like little children in adult bodies, Little Monsters comes with its own age-related conflict of identity. For it is too amiably cutesy to hold much appeal for Serious Horror Fans™, and too aggressively sweary and blue to be suitable for the children who otherwise would love it. Caught in between these two normally distinct age groups, it perhaps captures and exposes the juvenility that has always, if we are being honest with ourselves, been part and parcel of horror. “I don’t want to play this game anymore,” complains one of the kindergarten kids near the film’s end. “It makes no sense and the zombies look fake.” She is not wrong – but being a genre viewer requires us to suspend such disbelief and embrace the imagination and anxiety of our inner child.
Anticipation: Like Lupita Nyong’o, like zombies.
Enjoyment: Some very funny lines.
In Retrospect: Language aside, even its arrested protagonist might find it too tame.
© Anton Bitel