Love and Monsters (2020)
Director: Michael Matthews
Screenwriter: Brian Duffield, Matthew Robinson
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker, Ariana Greenblatt, Dan Ewing
The post-apocalyptic young adult genre has had no shortage of entries in recent years, most ranging from dismally bland to viciously grim, so what a pleasant surprise it is to find that Michael Matthews’ Love and Monsters has been able to successfully buck the trend.
After an asteroid en route to Earth is destroyed, the ensuing fallout leads to the mutation of all cold-blooded creatures on the planet. Giant insects, amphibians, fish and reptiles have now inherited the world and the human population’s remaining 5% are driven underground in an effort to survive. One such survivor is Joel (Dylan O’Brien), still pining for his long-lost love Aimee (Jessica Henwick) seven years after the cataclysmic event split them apart. Living in a colony full of couples, and relegated to making minestrone in the kitchen due to his tendency to freeze in moments of danger, Joel feels pretty hopeless. Unwilling to spend another moment alone, Joel sets out on a journey to reunite with Aimee. There’s only 85 miles between them, but he has to get past some huge bugs first.
Love and Monsters should especially please fans of creature-features like Eight Legged Freaks or The Mist, with all manner of monstrosities skittering, slithering and leaping across the screen. The Oscar-nominated effects blend well with the vibrant, weathered environments they inhabit, and the mixture of CGI and practical animatronics add a disgustingly tangible element missing from most contemporary big-budget fare. Creatively cool though they may be, the monsters themselves benefit from not being over-designed, each creature looking like a mutated anomaly rather than an excuse for artistic bravado. Likewise, the little touches of world building keep our eyes on the move and give the sense that every inch of the planet is crawling with things we don’t even know are there. Keep an eye out for football-sized egg-sacks in trees, the biggest cobwebs you’ve ever seen, and the subtle hints of movement in the shadows of caves and rivers that is bound to make your skin crawl.
Dylan O’Brien makes for a charming lead, especially effective in his narration which exudes a surprisingly fitting wise-guy quality. While O’Brien’s Joel does put the emphasis on the ‘Love’ in Love and Monsters, his earnest yearning to take control of his life in a world out of control gives the character genuine appeal without succumbing to sickliness. Along the way, he meets Clyde (Michael Rooker) and his young companion Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt), an odd couple of survival experts who impart their skills to Joel, along with their many names and classifications for the world’s new dominant species. Think Zombieland’s Tallahassee and Little Rock without the hostility.
That lack of venom in its human characters is exactly what keeps Love and Monsters from feeling too derivative of other works. While the story is fairly thin and full of archetypes we’ve seen before, the film’s inherent good nature whittles down a potential sharp edge, having you believe that if things truly went south, the last of humanity would stick together for the most part. It’s an optimistic notion, and one that we could all use right now.
Of course, the film’s cast isn’t limited to just humans and monsters. Every post-apocalyptic hero needs a trusty canine comrade, and Joel finds a perfect example in Boy. Living in his previous owner’s bus-turned-bunker (complete with dog-friendly door-pully system) and clinging to one of her red dresses, Boy is a very good boy, indeed. Best Animal Performance category added to the Academy Awards now, please.
A creature-feature with the yucky entertainment value of Tremors and the leafy road trip scenery of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Love and Monsters is an inventive little adventure movie. It may not stick in the memory like other big beastie pictures, but it’s a largely enjoyable ride while it lasts, and with some serious sequel hints Netflix may just have a new hit franchise on their hands.
Written by Scott Z. Walkinshaw
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