After the success of Jordan Peele’s Us, Lupita Nyong’o doubles down on the scary movie genre with Little Monsters, a zombie thriller about a school teacher protecting her class from an army of the undead.
The summer that Lupita Nyong’o spent filming her zombie romantic comedy Little Monsters in Sydney was one of the hottest on record in Australian history.
Nyong’o and co-stars Josh Gad and Alexander England battled their way through the sweltering elements while making this horror-slash-comedy – a literal slash flick – about a teacher whose class excursion to a sleepy farm is undone spectacularly by an invasion of an army of marauding undead.
Now, Little Monsters has a trailer. And the short clip will give you an indication of just how finely tuned the balance between jump scares and belly laughs is in this film.
Nyong’o stars as Miss Caroline, a preternaturally cheery teacher desperately trying to protect her class of very small children from the zombie invasion.
“Are we all gonna die Miss Caroline?” one of the school children asks her.
“No!” she reassures her. “It’s all part of the game. The zombies… are not real.”
“Like fuck they’re not!” yells Gad, in character as a belligerent children’s entertainer in a masterstroke of perfect casting.
As well as guts and gore, Little Monsters also has a romantic subplot between Nyong’o and England, who plays Dave, the uncle of one of the children in Miss Caroline’s class. He volunteers for the ill-fated trip in order to impress Miss Caroline, but when the excursion descends into blood-splattered madness Dave is asked to step up and help Miss Caroline protect the children.
One way they do this is through the soothing power of music. Miss Caroline carries a ukulele with her at all times, which she uses to softly strum songs for the children to sing along to. These include If You’re Happy And You Know It and, in one memorable scene, Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off.
The song is one with personal meaning to Nyong’o, who has spoken about how she credits it with helping her cope with a particularly difficult period in her life.
When the song was first released, Nyong’o was working on a film location far away from her family and friends. “I was going through a hard time professionally and I was just in a funk,” Nyong’o told audiences at an early screening at the Sundance Film Festival. “I was working abroad and my best friend came to cheer me up.”
Her best friend’s prescription for self care was a hefty dose of Swift’s ebullient, exuberant hit song. “He played Shake It Off on his phone, and we just had a dance party in my bedroom,” Nyong’o recalled.
“It meant a lot to me that this film had that [song],” Nyong’o said. “And so when I heard that they were having a hard time [getting the rights] I wrote Taylor Swift myself and asked her, and told her that story. And she said yes!”
In an interview with USA Today, Nyong’o added that singing on camera was more terrifying to her than any of the stunts involving armies of undead.
“I was very nervous and I’m very nervous now, just knowing that people are hearing me sing makes me very shy,” she said. “I do enjoy singing but it’s not often that I do it in the movies. It was a weird feeling. But I learned to play the ukulele as well, so it was all really uncharted territory.”
It helped that the song she got to sing was a song that was so close to her heart.
“Honestly, Shake It Off is an anthem of mine,” Nyong’o said. “That’s one of the reasons why my interest was piqued in this movie when I read the script, because I was like, ‘Someone else who loves Shake It Off just as much as I do!’”
Little Monsters is the second scary movie that Nyong’o has worked on this year. The actor was also the star of Us, Jordan Peele’s terrifying thriller about the evil twins in parallel universes. The tone of these movies is very different: Us was pure scary movie while Little Monsters lurches sharply towards comedy.
Either way, it’s a joy to see Nyong’o quite literally killing it on screen.
Little Monsters is in cinemas in the US and the UK on 15 November.
Images: YouTube, Universal