You may think you know Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar-winning star of “Twelve Years a Slave” and “Us.” But you haven’t seen her at her funniest, fiestiest and sweetest until you’ve plunged into the comic horrors of “Little Monsters.”
As kindergarten teacher Miss Caroline, she protects her tiny flock like a mother hen, brooking no nonsense from these five year-old Aussies.
“One two three, eyes on ME!” she commands, and their response is always “One, two, eyes on YOU.”
They adore her, are charmed by her ukulele playing and utterly beguiled by her singing. You haven’t heard Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Up” til you’ve heard Miss Caroline’s ukulele sing-along version.
They have a connection, which is especially important when she’s trying to keep her dozen charges alive during a zombie outbreak while on a field trip, and convince them it’s all a game, and that they’re winning.
That blood all over her lovely yellow dress?
“I got caught in the middle of a jam fight!”
Writer-director Abe Forsythe’s break-out zombie romp may be structured around Dave (Alexander England), a lazy, loutish 30something guitar player who’s never given up his Flying Vee, never given up his metal band, God’s Sledgehammer, never held a real job.
The scene-stealer might be the world famous kiddie entertainer Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad, a hoot), an insipid singer and hyperactive bundle of fun who is filming on location at the petting zoo Miss Caroline’s kids, including Dave’s nephew (Diesel La Torraca, I kid you not) are visiting for a field trip.
“I learned Meisner from Pacino! AL!”
But once the “virus” escapes from the neaby U.S. test facility, once the dead are biting the living and making more living dead, the movie belongs to Miss Caroline.
It’s a zombie comedy, so the laughs come in mostly very familiar places, with cracks about “Children of the Corn” and “Meals on Wheels” from the American entertainer, and American GIs asking their commanding officer the most important question in any zombie apocalypse.
“Fast zombies or slow zombies, SIR?”
Forsythe sets us up for something even more conventional before that, a mismatched rom-com in which Dave is kicked out of his girlfriend’s life and becomes the most inappropriate role model for his single mom sister’s (Kat Stewart) bullied, allegeric boy Felix (La Torraca). F-bombs, violent VR video games, dragging the kid into his struggle to reclaim his lost love Sara (Nadia Townsend).
A strident but amusing opening credits sequence has summed up that dead-end relationship as an endless argument and Dave as a loser with no prospects.
The first big laugh comes as Dave sorts one “bully” problem with a classroom door.
But Miss Caroline makes everyone want to do better. And when the dead feast on the living, it’s no heavy metal buffoon or diva of kids’ TV who must take charge and save little bodies as she’s shaping little minds.
She is adorable, and she makes “Little Monsters” the most adorable midnight movie/cult comedy/zombie farce you’ll see this year.
MPAA Rating: R for bloody zombie violence, crude sexual content, language throughout and brief drug use.
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Josh Gad, Alexander England, Kat Stewart and Diesel La Torraca.
Credits: Written and directed by Abe Forsythe. A Neon release.
Running time: 1:33