There’s something about zombies. Something that makes you want to laugh. Perhaps it’s the way they lurch along and their complete inability to run (you’d think more people would escape their clutches, but no). Maybe, despite that gruesome desire for human flesh, we see something of ourselves in them. Or perhaps it’s that delicious combination of the ridiculous and downright repulsive that makes them naturals when it comes to comedy.
Jim Jarmusch made environmental and political fun of them in The Dead Don’t Die and this month sees the follow up to one of the best zom-coms of modern times. Zombieland Two:Double Tap re-unites Tallahassee and co, and who isn’t hoping for a return appearance from the incomparable Bill Murray? Not to be outdone, this year’s London Film Festival offers the Sundance hit, Little Monsters, a zombie comedy with a decidedly Australian flavour, and starring Lupita Nyong’o who, as we all know, has more than a bit of form when it comes to horror movies. Not that this is especially horrific: gory, certainly, and it’s presented with relish, but there are decidedly more jokes than jumps in this story of a school outing that goes spectacularly and gruesomely wrong.
Nyong’o shines as the spirited kindergarten teacher who takes her class on a visit to a local petting zoo. She has so-called help from Dave (Alexander England), the uncle of one of the children in her charge: he’s never grown up, but has taken such a shine to the ukele-playing teacher that he grabs any opportunity to get closer to her. Their destination, however, happens to be next door to a military establishment, where a series of experiments has turned most of the occupants into groaning zombies – and their next target is the neighbouring zoo. And the school party, plus children’s TV celebrity Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), are just what they’re looking for.
So the race is on to protect the children and rescue them from becoming monster munch. Despite the film’s title, the kids are all right, likeable and some are even cute. Dave’s nephew, Felix (Diesel La Torracca), is the most endearing, managing to bring out his uncle’s more paternal side – and he wears a Darth Vadar costume with scene stealing style and panache. There’s plenty to laugh at generally – the kids conga through the zombies, a running gag from one of them increasingly insistent on playing “putt putt golf” – and Nyong’o is energetically appealing, alternating between comedy and drama in the blink of an eye. Her efforts to convince the children that the whole situation is a game are increasingly inventive, and you only wish that she’d been given a better leading man than England, who is constantly irritating, even though he does find some form of redemption. Gad’s children’s entertainer is horrible – false, selfish, unscrupulous – and he ramps it up to 11: in all honesty, he’s over the top, yet somehow it doesn’t seem out of place here.
Like its recent predecessors, Little Monsters is clearly inspired by George A Romero but, in truth, it doesn’t really live up to him. It takes too much time to get going and for the action to kick in – how, we wonder, will the couple we watch at the start having a continuous and public argument get involved with zombies? – and the acting, with the exception of Nyong’o, is variable. It also panders to the stereotypical view of Australians – they’re crude in every sense, especially when it comes to their humour – so the result is a reasonably enjoyable zom-com. Not the best of the genre you’ll see, but not the worst either.
Comedy, Horror | Cert: 15 | London Film Festival 5, 7 and 8 October 2019 | UK, 15 November 2019 | Altitude Entertainment | Dir. Abe Forsythe | Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Josh Gad, Diesel La Torraca.