Director: Michael Matthews
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker, Ellen Hollman, Melanie Zanetti
Genre: Adventure, Comedy
They say the best way to teach babies how to swim is to toss them in the pool, and ‘Love and Monsters’ makes that literal when a twenty-something Joel Dawson (‘Maze Runner’ and ‘Teen Wolf’ star Dylan O’Brien) embarks on a perilous journey across the monster-laden land to find his high school girlfriend, Aimee (‘On the Rocks’ star Jessica Henwick).
In ‘Love and Monsters’, following the destruction of an asteroid headed for Earth, chemical fallouts from the exploding missiles cause insects and animals to mutate into enormous, deadly monsters. As a result, 95% of the human population is wiped out from the surface and the remaining survivors are forced to form colonies and take refuge in underground bunkers.
Directed by South African director Michael Matthews, the post-apocalyptic film—which was written by Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson—was initially set for a global theatrical release on February 12, 2021, but the plan was derailed due to the pandemic. Instead, it first received a PVOD release in the US, then a limited release at some US theatres in October 2020. It was not until March this year that Netflix picked up the movie and the film was made available globally on April 14, 2021.
The premise began with Joel, our protagonist who happens to be a nasal beta male with a somewhat snarky attitude, narrating how the Monsterpocalypse took place (alongside a series of nifty illustrations). “I don’t think anyone was really shocked,” he says. “We always thought it might and then it just finally happened.” Fast forward seven years later, it is revealed that Joel, the only singleton residing in his colony, is a village liability who freezes whenever he gets frightened. Even so, there is still someone he fancies: her name is Aimee, his high school sweetheart, and she lives in a bunker near the coast, some 85 miles away. But when a giant termite-like creature breaches their colony and kills off one of their men, Joel resolves to reunite with Aimee so that he does not end up alone.
It’s a fool’s mission, especially for someone who gawks in fear in the face of monsters. But for the most part, Joel’s journey, while episodic, is equally engaging too. In a world overrun by terrifying critters, the apocalyptic coming-of-age film boasts visuals that are extremely imaginative—think spider webs covering branches and houses, bicycles or boats lodge on trees, an overturned school bus that rests atop an overturned monster spider carcass, and even a state-of-the-art talking robot that goes by the name ‘MaV1s’.
En route to his high school sweetheart, Joel comes face to face with a shoddily designed monstrous toad with a long, whip-like tongue and is saved by a dog, an Australian Kelpie named “Boy”, who pulls him aside. With Boy as a travelling companion, he eventually crosses path with two no-nonsense adventurers, Clyde (Michael Rooker) and 8-year-old Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt), who teach him how to survives on land. Tipping hats to the 2009 dystopian zombie flick ‘Zombieland’, Clyde and Minnow also follow a set of rules (or “Lessons” as the iconic duo call it) to survive on land. The protagonist, with his lack of experience in the monster-laden land, grapples with Lesson 2 “You get a hot meal or a good night’s sleep. Not both.”
“Zombieland’s a bit more punchy,” Matthews revealed in an interview with Decider, while citing how ‘Love and Monsters’ was inspired by videogame ‘The Last of Us’ instead. “(Love and Monsters) does have humour, but it’s got a bit more heart.”
On screen, a nice chemistry develops between the three, especially with Clyde and Minnow’s continuous teasing and occasional consolation. Closer to the second-half of the film, Joel part ways with Clyde and Minnow, who will continue their journey to the icy mountains for refuge.
The film is punctuated with several creature encounters, which will no doubt keep you entertained. In one scene, we see a gigantic, black-shelled centipede ambushing Joel and Boy. In another, an endearing shoal of blue and purple luminescent jellyfish floats through the air, evoking a sense of wonder. Then there’s also the “Sandgobblers”, who will likely remind you of the foul, face-wrapping, flesh-eating facehuggers from ‘Alien vs Predators’. Put differently, danger lurks in almost every corner and Joel is part of a perilous obstacle course to see Aimee.
‘Love and Monsters’ takes a dull turn nearing the third act. The plot becomes shamelessly vanilla: the protagonist gets acquainted with a painful truth and sees himself attempting to save the day (with Boy) despite being ungainly with weapons. Joel eventually questions himself if the journey he had taken was a waste.
With a pandemic in the midst, ‘Love and Monsters’ is a timely film that inadvertently reminds us that heading outdoors can be dangerous. It also reminds us that there are rules to follow in order to survive. For all that it is worth, the post-apocalyptic film is both silly and fun. It rides on O’Brien’s goofiness as well as that ironic sense of light-heartedness that typical apocalyptic or dystopian films lack. Take those away, and it’s just another adventure film with pretty camera work.
The ending to ‘Love and Monsters’ is ambiguous and leaves things open for a sequel—one that is most welcome.