Sometimes a movie only needs one great scene to make it feel worth your time. For the most part, the Australian zombie comedy Little Monsters, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival as part of the Midnight program, is a retread of genre tropes, emotional beats, and satirical gags you've seen in other, better movies. Even with an Outback twist, the blend of wise-cracking and brain-eating feels derivative of Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead, a movie that's hard to imitate and even harder to top, and writer-director Abe Forsythe often struggles to calibrate the laughs with the kills. Still, the movie has one completely dynamite sequence -- and it involves star Lupita Nyong'o chopping heads off with a shovel.
Decked out in a bright yellow dress, her character, Miss Caroline, a Christian kindergarten teacher with a fondness for playing Taylor Swift songs on the ukulele and a gift for controlling unruly children, moves across the grassy landscape with purpose and determination as she swings the shovel at her undead attackers. She treats their bodies like bowling pins. Thwack, thwack, thwack. With each swing, pivot, and smash, she turns the video-game-like battle royal into a violent ballet. It's exhilarating.
Despite the buckets of blood spilled, the sequence never feels gratuitous or silly. In the context of the movie's story, which centers around heavy-metal-loving burnout Dave (Alexander England) learning to become less of a selfish asshole by protecting his niece and her classmates from a zombie attack during a field trip, Miss Caroline is only protecting her students from harm. To make them feel safe, she tells the kids in her class that the outbreak, which occurs after an experiment goes wrong at a nearby U.S. military base, is all part of an elaborate "game," like tag with grizzled innards and rotting brains. As she says later in the film with an icy, action-movie sense of purpose, "It's my job."