In horror comedy “Little Monsters,” which premiered Tuesday at Sundance Film Festival, the Oscar-winning star of “12 Years a Slave” and “Black Panther” lets loose as Miss Caroline, a kindergarten teacher whose petting zoo field trip goes off the rails when zombies attack. With the help of concerned parent and chaperone Dave (Alexander England), the two fend off the living dead using tractors, shovels and a pitchfork – all while serenading her students with Taylor Swift and “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
Written and directed by Australian filmmaker Abe Forsythe, “Little Monsters” will be released later this year by Neon and Hulu. Nyong’o, 35, chats with USA TODAY about the charming new film.
Question: This movie has so much sincerity and heart, which is rare for the horror genre. What drew you to the script?
Lupita Nyong’o: I loved how outrageous the story was, and all these tonal shifts. You think you’re in one genre of a movie and then you turn the page and you’re in a totally different one. It does that like three times, and I love that surprise.
I also loved how Abe was inspired (to write this) by his son going to kindergarten for the first time. His son has these medical conditions and extreme food allergies, so giving him to another adult was a really big step for him. And that’s what helped him realize what a pivotal role teachers play in helping kids grow up and introducing them to the larger world outside their families. I love that there’s all this fun and profanity, but also this really soft heart.
Q: Were you a fan of the zombie genre before this?
Nyong’o: I can’t say that I had a lot of exposure to zombie movies. I really didn’t know too much, except for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (laughs). It was something I definitely had to learn more about once I was attracted to this project, so I watched “Night of the Living Dead,” “Train to Busan” and of course “Shaun of the Dead,” which was fun. I really got my education in all things zombie.