Review: Love and Monsters

I heard something favorable about this movie yesterday, watched the trailer, and opted to watch it with a purchase on Amazon Prime. It was worth it. I found out only after watching that it was released via video on demand on Friday, so this is a rare example where I’m actually writing about a topical piece of pop culture.

Love and Monsters is easy to talk about because while it’s a refreshingly funny and thrilling coming-of-age story focused on relationships and emotions, and it’s dealing with a post-apocalyptic world with its own lore to explain how cold-blooded animals rapidly mutated into horrific monsters, the narrative is simple. Joel (played by Dylan O’Brien) has lived with a small group of survivors in the seven years since these monsters erupted onto the world stage. He feels alone and out-of-place in his group, though he loves his found family, and after freezing in the face of a monster breach and realizing that he could soon die alone, he decides to go on a seven-day overland journey to reunite in person with his old high school girlfriend, Aimee (Jessica Henwick), who he’s managed to reconnect with over the radio. He sets out, ill-prepared for what awaits him. Along the way, he meets fellow survivors that he bonds with, develops the skills and inner strength needed to make it in this dangerous new world, and learns the value he had within himself and his small community all along. It’s heartwarming, intimate, and optimistic, a tale of what normal humans can do, and it promises that even in the face of the apocalypse, we can adapt and overcome. In that way, it joins a small subgenre of optimistic disaster/monster movies, including Pacific Rim, Zombieland, and Monsters (a fairly generic title for Gareth Edwards’s 2010 kaiju invasion/relationship flick–and arguably the least relevant to this list, given the ambiguity of the opening/ending).

Love and Monsters is a straightforward tale, told well by director Michael Matthews and screenwriters Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson. There’s a lot of heart and humor in it, and Dylan O’Brien does a great job conveying a variety of emotions in a range of contexts, which is vitally important in a film built around him, especially when he is so often alone. His most constant company is a dog named Boy, who like every character in the movie is dealing with a traumatic loss; Boy refuses to go anywhere without a red dress, a memento of his missing and presumably deceased former caretaker. Boy steals every scene he’s in. He’s such a smart, good, loyal Boy. The relationship between Dylan and Boy becomes perhaps the central relationship, more so than Dylan’s relationship with his former colony or Aimee or his deceased parents, and rivaled only by his relatively brief traveling companions, an adoptive father-daughter team of hardened survivalists played by Michael Rooker and Ariana Greenblatt. Impressively, the film is not a love story played straight; Dylan finds his relationship to Aimee changed, just as he is changed by his journey. (It’s a nice touch that the big romantic gesture isn’t necessarily received as such or in the same spirit, while the unrequited love interest remains likeable, charismatic, and competent.)

Monster designs are creepy and creative too, with grotesque and giant versions of frogs, millipedes, ants, and so on. They don’t always have a great sense of grounding in a physical space, and sometimes they appear a bit plasticky, but overall they look good.

I don’t really have more to say. Love and Monsters is simply good fun, in thrilling packaging.

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