2020 | PG-13 | starring Dylan O’Brien, Michael Rooker | directed by Michael Matthews |1 hr 49 mins |
In a cinematic world that loves to drown itself in post-apocalyptic misery, the awkwardly titled and poorly marketed Love & Monsters is a invigorating breath of fresh air. A studio debut for director Michael Matthews L&M is a knowing blend of the sensibilities of a YA post-apocalyptic film and a road trip/monster movie apocalypse film, like a lighter A Boy and His Dog.
The monsters in this case are key to the film’s success, we don’t face zombies or cannibals, but an asteroid that we blasted out of the sky and reigned down a virus that grew every small animal on the planet to a terrifying size. Giant frogs with slippery tongues, ants, worms and crabs the size of a house stalk the landscape forcing humans into bunkers. Our hero on the quest is Joel (Dylan O’Brien, The Maze Runner) who, instead of being the YA movie aloof heartthrob, is emasculated and unlucky at love. While the rest of the bunker is hooking up (an inevitable side effect of post-apocalyptic life these movies rarely get into) or out on monster patrol, he is forced into the role of bunker cook, sitting alone at night talking to his pre-apocalypse girlfriend over a CB radio in another bunker. After paralyzing with fear during a terrifying ant breach, Joel decides to leave the hatch, strike out on his own and reunite his CB girlfriend (Jessica Henwick). Dodging beasts, befriending a dog and some survival savvy travelers (including Michael Rooker in note-perfect casting).
Everything about this movie is fun. From it’s animated prologue, to it’s seemingly innocent but deadly monsters to O’Brien’s take on the klutzy hero, Love and Monsters knocks it out of the park with a bright visual pallet and fun tone. It’s still a hike-through-the-forest movie in a road trip movie template which gives it an episodic quality, each little adventure beginning and ending and replacing with another, that flags the pace a little bit. I’m not a fan of this type of story structure in general, as each encounter can vary in your mileage, but L&M manages to continually keep things fresh, stopping at one point for a heartfelt scene that Joel shares with a robot on it’s last ounce of battery power.
To date, Love and Monsters has slipped past a lot of people, probably thinking it was either to YA or two much of a monster movie for either crowd. It’s a wonderful blend of the two with a more grounded Pixar-esque ending that made me like it even more. Matthews flips almost every trope of the genre in the opposite direction for something light and fun. Given how post-apocalyptic films are defined by grit and dreariness, this rich, satisfying, well-rounded trend-bucker is well worth seeking out.