It seems like only last week we were reviewing a zombie comedy, and in fact it was. Apparently, you can’t keep a good subgenre down, and this week we’ve got the Aussie take, Little Monsters by criminally underrated director Abe Forsythe (Down Under).
Little Monsters, at its core, is about what might happen if a zombie outbreak occurred during a kindergarten excursion to a tourist farm, Pleasant Valley in this case. Miss Audrey Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o) must keep her charges safe and distracted as all around people lose their minds and limbs. Unfortunately, for her (and the audience, to a degree), Miss Caroline isn’t the main character of the movie, that honour goes to Dave (Alexander England), who is an absolute deadshit, frankly. Dave is selfish, stupid, manipulative and only very sporadically funny, which makes him a curious choice for the romantic lead, particularly opposite Lupita who is absolutely radiant. And while Dave’s story is ostensibly a redemption arc, there are quite a few moments where you’ll be rooting for the zombies to gnaw his face off.
Happily, Lupita Nyong’o absolutely shines as Miss Caroline, imbuing the potentially shallow role with depth and pathos, making her journey an absolutely thrilling one. More surprising, the kids are actually pretty good too, with Felix (Diesel La Torraca) offering a star turn as Dave’s allergic-to-everything nephew. The story finds momentum along the way as well, with the third act surprisingly affecting after a somewhat listless middle section.
Little Monsters is a great premise bolstered by a wonderful performance from Lupita Nyong’o, somewhat stymied by a singularly unpleasant lead character, but loaded up with charm, humour and tolerable children.
Marrying into a rich and powerful family must be a bizarre experience. You’d have to jump through so many hoops just to prove you weren’t cementing the union for financial reasons, and entering the world of a modern dynasty would likely cause severe culture shock. Ready or Not, from directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, takes that premise a few steps further, asking, what if the wealthy clan’s eccentricity stretched to murder?
Grace (Samara Weaving) is marrying Alex (Mark O’Brien) and joining the filthy rich Le Domas family, who made their fortune flogging board games. The family ranges from acerbic and drunk with Daniel (Adam Brody), to superficially pleasant with Alex’s mum, Becky (Andie MacDowell) to downright terrifying, with hatchet-faced aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni). However, things don’t become truly dark until midnight after the wedding when tradition dictates the family plays a game. Grace has to pick a card and play whatever it says. If it says chess, they play chess. If it says checkers, they play checkers. And if it says Hide and Seek? Well, Grace will be the sacrifice in a deadly game that must see her dead before dawn.
Ready or Not‘s best qualities can be summarised in two words: Samara Weaving. Her take on Grace is at turns spunky, funny, likeable and vulnerable, with a wry knowing quality that continues her ascendance to Scream Queen status. Combined with a brisk, if occasionally unambitious, script, the action plays out as a black comedy for most of the runtime, although it gets darker and weirder for the better in the back end. Adam Brody and Andie MacDowell both offer wonderful support roles, and the rest of the cast are solid too, and while it falls short of brilliance, the story engages throughout the duration.
There’s a subtext of the rich using the poor that underpins Ready or Not, and although it’s not explored as much as one might hope, it’s great to see mainstream horror embracing allegory over jumpscares. While echoing certain beats of 2011’s You’re Next, Ready or Not is fresh enough to offer a pacey, black horror comedy with a thing or two on its mind and a spectacular lead actress. While falling short of being an unmissable classic, it’s absolutely a game worth playing.