Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Fantasia 2019--LITTLE MONSTERS (Abe Forsythe, 2019)

Lupita Nyong'o plays the charming Miss Caroline who protects her young charges from zombies in Little Monsters (2019)
Most kids are annoying.  It's true, and it's not just that other people's kids are annoying.  Don't let those parents fool you--they think their kids are also annoying, but they aren't supposed to say so, and...well, you can't put the toothpaste back into the tube.  Horror is common ground for evil kids getting up to mischief, but little urchins as victims--either of their own parents, or "stranger danger" evildoers--are even more ubiquitous.  These "children in peril" horrors also inevitably have kids doing really dumb things in order to land themselves in mortal danger.  Then they grow into the most irritating people imaginable--teenagers--and we gleefully watch them be picked off by some invincible serial killer. 

Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself.  Back to kids.  Cinematic kids are notoriously adorable, and the 5-6 year olds Abe Forsythe chose for Little Monsters (2019) are definitely cuties.  Still, none of them come close to the angelic adorableness that Lupita Nyong'o channels as their super-sweet and heroic kindergarten teacher, Miss Audrey Caroline; whom, beyond a somewhat checkered past that landed her in Australia, can only exist in the movies.  She is impossibly wonderful, and utterly winning.  After seeing Nyong'o in Jordan Peele's Us (2019), audiences expect her to whup some sorry Zombie ass. She does not disappoint.

If she and those kids were the only people in the movie, I would have been delighted, but nope--we've got to have an overgrown man child in need of a redemption arc and a new girlfriend, so enter Dave (Alexander Englund).  Dave is a washed-up heavy metal wannabe who fights with his girlfriend throughout the opening of the film, and crashes on his sister's couch.  Said sister, Tess (Kat Stewart) happens to be a single mum to one adorable kid, Felix (Diesel La Tarraca--what a name!), who also coincidentally attends Miss Caroline's kindergarten class.  You see where this story is going, right?  When Dave is conscripted to bring Felix to school, he takes one look at Miss Caroline and falls in LUV. 

Miss Caroline plays Taylor Swift songs on the ukulele--and she makes it seem sweet rather than cloying
Frankly, you cannot blame him, but really, there is zero chemistry between these two since Audrey can surely do infinitely better.  He eagerly volunteers to join her in chaperoning the kids to a petting zoo, where a marvelous surprise awaits--Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), a really horrid children's performer who seems to be part of a trend of evil children's performers (think Pennywise in It and the evil clown/kidnapper/psycho in Happy).  Although Teddy is not supernaturally evil--he's just a human a**hole.  He serves as a foil for loser Dave, who seems positively evolved in comparison.

When the zombies show up, Miss Caroline does her best to distract the kids and tell them that it's all a game--high-jinks ensue.  While the film is mostly structured for laughs, there are some worrying moments; nevertheless, Audrey wields a shovel with gusto.  As frequent readers know, I'm not a fan of horror comedies, but watching this film in a packed house at Fantasia, I found myself cheering right along with everyone else whenever Miss Caroline got out of a tight scrape.  Likewise, Dave's nephew, Felix, is probably one of the cutest kids I've seen in a while.  As a kid who is allergic to everything, you would expect the little tyke to be ripe victim fodder, but he manages to be much more than his sensitivities. 

Little Monsters is mostly fluff, but fun fluff
Some of the laughs hit, some miss, but Lupita Nyong'o makes the whole experience worthwhile.  She is luminous throughout, and Forsythe really scored when he secured her for Miss Caroline.  This woman can do anything.  I want her to be the star of all the movies. Dave's arc is hackneyed, but I guess we still need to reassure dickhead white guys that they have some place in contemporary cinema.  Be prepared, though--your tolerance for Taylor Swift and Neil Diamond needs to be pretty high to survive Little Monsters.