Friday, February 1, 2019

Sundance with Abe: Little Monsters

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the sixth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Little Monsters
Directed by Abe Forsythe

The mainstream consensus is that zombies don’t exist, but you wouldn’t know that from watching movies or television. The undead are incredibly prominent right now, enjoying a healthy post-life run for at least the past decade or so in a number of popular forms. While not all zombies are the same, there are certain agreed-upon traits, like needing to shoot them in the head to truly kill them. The rest can vary, as can the tone of the work depicting them, which can range from a terrifying race to outrun annihilation to a far more comedic parody of the all-too-common zombie portrayal.

Dave (Alexander England) argues incessantly with his girlfriend, mostly in public, and their relationship inevitably comes to an end. Crashing with his sister Tess (Nadia Townsend), Dave enjoys spending time with his five-year-old nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca), who he allows to play violent video games all through the night. When he drops Felix off at school, Dave is taken by the sight of her teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o) and eagerly volunteers to chaperone the next day’s field trip. Unluckily for him, the outing to the animal farm just happens to coincide with a vicious zombie outbreak that puts the entire class in jeopardy, protected only by their loyal teacher and hapless chaperone.

This isn’t a film that cares too much about the details of the zombie apocalypse save from explaining it away as an outbreak at a United States army facility in Australia. What’s of more concern is that Miss Caroline is determined to keep her kids safe and, most importantly, unafraid, convincing them that it’s all a game which they need to enjoy playing while she’s fully aware of the dire situation in which they’ve found themselves. Dave is introduced as a complete brute unable and unwilling to censor himself around children, and his evolution into a halfway-decent human being while most life around him is being corrupted is expected but still entertaining.

It’s remarkable to see how far Nyong’o has come in just six years after winning an Oscar for her feature film debut in “12 Years a Slave.” She follows up “Black Panther” by emulating her costar from that film, Danai Gurira, and tackling zombies with an appropriate resolve to survive and not to be irreversibly changed by it. England is funny, and he’s joined by a host of talented children and an over-the-top turn from Josh Gad as a selfish kids’ TV star who gets stranded with the class. This film doesn’t offer much in the way of new comedy, but it still contains many laughs and is an enjoyable if absurd ride.


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