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SYFY WIRE zombies

How Little Monsters uses zombies as relationship therapy

By Emma Fraser
Little Monsters

Traditionally, the most seductive supernatural being is a vampire. From Bram Stoker’s Dracula to the Salvatore brothers on The Vampire Diaries, chances are that if there are fangs a romance will follow. Zombies aren't as alluring on a superficial level; it is harder to get over decaying flesh and body parts as opposed to an eternally youthful appearance, but over the last decade, zombies have gone from being feared to a potential love interest, with TV shows and movies embracing the trend.

iZombie, Warm Bodies, and Life After Beth explore the challenges of dating the undead, while Netflix comedy Santa Clarita Diet featured a marriage that not only survived a zombie transformation but was strengthened as Sheila and Joel adapted to her new impulse control issues. Traditional zombies from the George A. Romero school of horror aren’t boyfriend or girlfriend material, but this doesn’t mean the connections are not forged. Love thrives even in the darkest times; Rick and Michonne found each other on The Walking Dead, and Zombieland uses this global crisis to underscore the importance of family — both the one we have and the one we make. Meanwhile, Little Monsters, now playing on Hulu, also finds space for relationship conversations and facing your past while chaos reigns outside.

Spoilers ahead for Little Monsters.

Little Monsters

Shaun of the Dead introduced the world to the romantic-comedy with a zombie twist (rom-zom-com for short) in 2004. Shaun doesn’t realize just how directionless he has become until his girlfriend Liz breaks up with him after he forgets to book a table at her favorite restaurant for their anniversary — this is the final straw, as her list of grievances is long. The breakup combined with the zombie apocalypse gives Shaun the wake-up call he so desperately needs.

Zombies are often a metaphor that can broach a broad social issue such as Civil Rights or consumerism. They can also stand in for something personal, whether the construction of family in Zombieland or as a representation of Shaun aimlessly walking through life. Little Monsters also begins with a break-up, as Dave (Alexander England) is dumped for refusing to commit to his girlfriend. She wanted kids, while he constantly made excuses about it being the wrong time.

Little Monsters

As with Shaun, Dave doesn’t know what he wants and displays a variety of unattractive qualities. He still has dreams of being a rock star but his band ditched him a long time ago and he now makes money busking on the street. Despite his family giving him a place to stay, he is rude to his sister and doesn't take his nephew's severe allergies seriously — something that returns to haunt him later on. When he takes his nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca) to school, he meets the radiant Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o) and instantly falls for her. He even volunteers to chaperone the class field trip to Pleasant Valley Farm, which is not an altruistic offer.

This farm happens to be next to a United States military testing facility — the film is set in Australia, and Dave has a touch of the Hemsworths about him — and as this is a zombie movie, you can guess what escapes from the lab before making its hungry way toward a farm full of animals, tourists, and school children.

Little Monsters

Miss Caroline has promised she will protect the children even before the zombies attack the farm, but she soon finds she is particularly adept with a shovel and pitchfork. She turns everything into a game so the kids don’t realize they could be the next meal. Her canary yellow dress begins the day as the clothing equivalent of sunshine, but it is soon covered in evidence of this precarious situation. She claims the bloodstains are jam, and if they manage to stay out of trouble they will get to play miniature golf.

Young kids don’t always fare well in this subgenre (see The Walking Dead) and this isn’t just one child; an entire class of five-year-old kids is quite the challenge even without zombies to contend with. It is an inventive twist, which leads to a conga-line through the undead, and ukulele renditions of Taylor Swift songs to maintain a sense of normalcy for the children.

Some zombie movies never use that particular word to describe the undead, but Little Monsters takes a page from the self-referential school of horror. When the military arrives to assess the damage, one of the commanding officers asks if they are the fast or slow kind, suggesting this is not the first time an incident has occurred. It is all very tongue-in-cheek, which adds to the enjoyment of this surprisingly sweet movie.

Little Monsters

As the zombies stand watch outside, Miss Caroline and Dave share their personal apocalypse stories. Dave is scared of having children because his dad left when he was young and his mother fell apart in a big way. His sister looked after him when their mother could not. Miss Caroline wears an engagement ring to keep creepy dads at bay, but the truth is that her fiancé cheated on her and this relationship ended a long time ago. This is not the interesting part of her story, as her journey to becoming a teacher is a tad unorthodox. She was a Hanson super fan and followed them to Australia on tour, illegally entering their hotel room in Perth so she could meet one of them and when Taylor Hanson found her in the room, she jumped out of the window to avoid getting arrested. She broke her collar bone during this escape, so she got a job in a school to pay her medical bills and the rest is history. Working with kids gave her purpose after she had lost her way. This truth sharing session is accompanied by the moans of the zombies outside, which doesn't diminish the sincerity of this moment.

For those who survive a zombie attack, it can be a revelation about what to do with a life that has been stuck on pause. Shaun realizes he needs to fight for Liz, while Dave acknowledges that he can’t keep using his dad as an excuse to not move forward or step up. The anger that came from that past can be channeled in another way. The inevitable smooch is sweet, even if it is an expected turn of events. Zombie rom-coms are no longer a new take on this subgenre, but Little Monsters is a fun addition to the sub-sub-genre of using the undead as a form of relationship therapy.