From Australia comes a new outing in the zom-rom-com genre created by Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead back in 2004, which premiered to acclaim at the Sundance Festival in January. This is written and directed by Abe Forsythe, and it shares a low-budget feel with Wright’s first outing. The money has gone instead on acting talent and a whip-smart, crackling and very funny screenplay.
The film opens with a rotating series of vignettes of mutual loathing between Dave (Alexander England), a failing musician, and Sara (Nadia Townsend), whose vicious fights ruin a whole cornucopia of social events to their mutual friends’ evident discomfort. So it’s no surprise when they split, and Dave heads to his sister’s, a nurse named Tess (Kat Stewart), a single mum bringing up Felix (Diesel La Torraca) to couch surf.
Dave is instantly likeable, though an appalling specimen of humanity. An angry, self-centred, narcissistic failed musician, he blames the world for his lack of success – but the Devil always has the best tunes, and so it proves when it comes to dialogue.
Felix: “Uncle Dave, what’s a douchebag?”
Dave (deadpan): “Oh, it’s what women use to clean out their vaginas in the shower.”
But horrendously inappropriate Dave is given a shot at redemption. When he sees a picture of Felix’s primary school teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong'o, who fronted huge horror hit Us and has previously appeared in Black Panther and 12 Years A Slave). She brings a splash of colour to proceedings, thanks to her bright yellow dress, though Dave’s feelings towards her are not entirely honourable at the outset. In one side-splittingly funny scene, we see Dave masturbating furiously while looking at a photo of her. After he has finished, the camera pans back as he hangs the framed photo back up on the wall – it is a classic primary school classroom shot with Miss Caroline standing proudly to one side with her charges.
So the set-up is good and very funny, well executed for Act Two – the classroom trip to a petting zoo. Since another teacher is ill, Dave steps up and volunteers to come as a helper.
Needless to say, the zoo trip runs into unforeseen difficulties, namely a zombie infestation. Miss Caroline shows true Christian fortitude by telling the children it’s all a game and singing – beautifully, it has to be said – while playing a ukulele. Cue a great comic side turn from children’s TV star Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad, who voiced Olaf in Frozen) who makes Dave look like a perfect role model in comparison with his snarling, misanthropic self-loathing.
Pretty soon, as with Shaun of the Dead, we are in Assault on Precinct 13 territory, with the children and the three adults taking refuge in a souvenir hut as the zombies surround them. Nyong’o switches from Christian teacher to kick-ass mofo without so much as a blink, as she athletically takes on zombies, despatching and beheading them with alacrity.
The whole delicious slice of whimsy is served up with a nod to the boy-meets-girl tradition, and none the worse for it. If you enjoyed Edgar Wright’s earlier work, you’re in for a huge treat…