05th Feb2021

‘Love and Monsters’ Review

by Jason Brigger

Stars: Dylan O’Brien, Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker, Dan Ewing, Ariana Greenblatt, Ellen Hollman, Tre Hale, Pacharo Mzembe, Senie Priti | Written by Brian Duffield, Mathew Robinson | Directed by Michael Matthews

Love and Monsters, a film that is part monster film, part journey of self-discovery, was released on Video on Demand and in theaters in October 2020, but unfortunately due to the pandemic, was not able to reach as wide of an audience as the films deserves. Thankfully, the film was just recently released on Blu-ray and will be able to reach a much-deserved wider audience as it will appeal to not only the sci-fi crowd but also comedy fans.

The Plot:

In the not-so-distant future, the planet has been overrun by monsters as a result of nuclear fallout due to multiple countries sending nuclear missiles into space to stop an impeding asteroid from impacting Earth. As a result of the nuclear fallout, insects, amphibians and plants began to mutate, resulting in wiping out 95% of humanity and leaving the other 5% left to fend for themselves on a planet that is no longer safe. For those “lucky” enough to survive, they have retreated to underground bunkers, known as “colonies”, for safety and only going out for supplies when needed as the monsters have taken over the planet.

Joel (Dylan O’Brien) is the odd-man-out in his colony as everyone else in his colony has found love and is paired up with each other, resulting in a lot of alone time for Joel. While the other colonists are out scavenging for food and protecting the colony from the occasional monster threat, Joel is more passive and spends his time cooking and taking care of the everyday chores associated in running a colony.

It’s not that Joel doesn’t try to do his part in the colony, it’s just that he freezes every time he is put in a position of conflict. The old theory of a “fight or flight” doesn’t pertain to Joel…no, he just freezes, resulting in the other colonists always coming to his rescue. After a recent attack on his colony by a gigantic ant, resulting in the death of a fellow colonist, Joel decides to set out on a 85-mile trek to another colony that his old high school girlfriend, Aimee (Jessica Henwick), is at, in hopes of surviving the apocalypse with someone he loves.

The journey starts well for Joel and he even feels like the dangers in the world may be exaggerated until he encounters a mutated giant toad in a suburban backyard and is almost devoured for lunch. Luckily for him, he is rescued by his new friend, Boy, a stray dog that has lost his owner. Boy not only follows Joel on his journey, but also teaches him survival skills by barking when Joel is about to eat poisonous fruit and when hidden monsters are about to attack.

Boy isn’t the only friend Joel meets along the way either as he is saved from a sand-gobblers (think gigantic earthworms) by Clyde Dutton (Michael Rooker) and Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt). Just like a video game, Joel’s survival skills are increased again as Clyde and Minnow, survivalists that have been fighting monsters for some time, teach Joel how to survive in this now hostile world. Along the way, Joel and Boy bond with Clyde and Minnow and are even invited to join them on their journey to a mountain retreat where the cold and the mountains keep monsters at bay, but Joel feels it’s his destiny to find his former girlfriend.

I won’t spoil Love and Monsters for you but Joel, after several encounters with friendly and not-so-friendly monsters, arrives at a beach colony that is led by Aimee. While Joel remembers Aimee as his high school sweetheart, seven years in a monster-infested world has caused Aimee to morph into a leader and a survivalist. No longer is she a 16-year old naïve girl, but rather a proven leader that the mostly older occupants of her colony look to for guidance.

Love and Monsters changes direction multiple times during Joel’s journey and once he arrives at the beach colony, it changes again. No longer is Joel just afraid of monsters, now he realizes the old trope that humans are actually the monsters and are worse than the mutated monsters that inhabit Earth. The third act, whether intentional or not, set ups possible future films in the franchise but does deliver an ending of hope in a rather bleak world.

The Good:

  • The World. Director Michael Matthews creates a beautiful but deadly world that begs for more exploration in future films. The monsters, both the dangerous and the non-dangerous, are beautiful as they flesh out the world the survivors are living in, which is helped by the top notch CGI in the film. Matthews is able to not only create an amazing world of monsters, but he also makes the world take on the role of another character as integral to the story as Joel and Aimee. The film does a terrific job of exploring multiple terrains and adjusting the monsters’ look and motives based on where they live, from the forest to the beach to the mountains.

The Bad:

  • Similarities to Zombieland. As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but notice the overwhelming similarities, from the type of characters to the smarmy one-liners, to the 2009 film Zombieland. In Love and Monsters, Joel meets up with Clyde and Minnow, survivalists who know how to tame the wild new world of monsters, which seems very familiar to the characters of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), down to the characteristics of the gruff older man and the overly-prepared tween. Even Joel’s journey from the timid, non-confrontational protagonist to becoming a leader and overcoming his fears of taking on the dangerous world is reminiscent of Jessie Eisenberg’s character arc of Columbus in Zombieland. Love and Monsters does differentiate at times as it is not completely Zombieland in a giant monster world, and if you are going to use Zombieland as the template for a monster film there are certainly worse films to use, but the comparisons at times are more than abundant.

The Middling:

  • First Act of Joel. While audiences will grow to love the main character of Joel, and for that matter all the characters, Joel tends to be annoying in the first act. I understand we need to see Joel’s timidness during times of confrontation and stress, as the film is about his growth to overcome these fears, but it slows the pace of the film. While his growth is important, at times there was too much focus on his fears but eventually, once Joel learns how to control his fears and overcome the hindrance, it changes the dynamic of the film. Once the film enters the second and third act and Joel is able to break-out of his fears, the film picks up speed and goes from a slower, bogged down pace, to a “pedal to the metal” pace, resulting in a better and more fun film.

Final Grade: B (Good)

Love and Monsters is a fun and entertaining film, that due to Blu-ray and a dip in the rental price on Video on Demand, should find a cult following. It’s an enjoyable film that never takes itself too seriously but at the same time, causes the audience to worry about the safety of the characters that we grow fond of during the film. Overall, the film is a joy to watch and well worth your time and the only thing holding it back from being a “great” film is the annoyance factor of Joel in the first act and the too many similarities to Zombieland.
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You can catch Jason Brigger on the geek-centric podcast, The History of Bad Ideas, as new episodes are released every week at www.nerdly.co.uk or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Amazon Music and other podcasting apps. 
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