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KVUE Review: 'Little Monsters,' starring Lupita Nyong'o, Josh Gad

Lupita Nyong'o shines in the mostly forgettable film 'Little Monsters.'
Credit: Courtesy of NEON & Hulu
Lupita Nyong'o in LITTLE MONSTERS. Courtesy of NEON & Hulu.

AUSTIN, Texas — Horror-comedy is a tricky genre. It requires a deep appreciation for both horror and comedy on their own and, to be truly successful, filmmakers have to strike a good balance between the two.

Alleged horror-comedy 'Little Monsters,' which is screening a few times throughout SXSW 2019, isn't quite funny enough to achieve that balance.

Zombies are inherently kind-of funny. They're slow and dumb, gross and, historically, not that hard to kill. And there are several great zom-coms -- like 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Zombieland' -- but 'Little Monsters' isn't one of them. It's fine. It's not great.

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It's a film about a kindergarten field trip to a petting zoo that gets crashed by a zombie outbreak. Not a bad premise, as horror-comedies go.

And it's not wholly bad. Newcomer Diesel La Torraca is a raspy-voiced cutie pie who hopefully has a long career ahead of him. Nyong'o shines like a ray of sunlight, yellow sundress and all, as the kindergarten teacher who will stop at nothing to keep her students safe and calm -- whether she's wielding a ukulele for a Taylor Swift sing-along or a shovel for some zombie slaying. There are a few good jokes, and the zombie gore itself is decent, even if it's not anything to write home about in this post-'Walking Dead' world.

But the other non-Nyong'o characters are impossible to root for. Alexander England plays a failed musician -- La Torraca's character's uncle, who's into Nygong'o's character -- who's nothing more than a rude man-child for over 60 percent of the film. And while it's fun to see Josh Gad play an intentionally terrible person -- and a deranged children's television personality at that -- his character feels over-vulgar, like the writers wanted to see how many times they could use a certain four-letter word and its variations.

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The zombies themselves are also nothing new. When it comes to horror-comedy, the genre works best when it toys with expectations, either with its horror, its comedy or both. These zombies look and act exactly like any other zombies you've seen before, so the film needs great comedy and great characters to win the game it's trying to play. It doesn't have enough of either.

The short of it: Lupita Nyong'o is good in this film, but she's also good in better films. And other zom-coms will serve you better than this one.

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