“I really didn’t have your typical upbringing. I mean, I did at first; but then the world ended.”
Monsters are making a comeback in a big way in movies as of late. With blockbuster cinema being dominated by superheroes (who also face their fair share of monsters), and with the advances in CGI that cinema has made over the last 10 – 15 years, it’s getting a lot easier to create photorealistic monstrosities without having to rely on puppets and animatronics, and Love And Monsters takes advantage of this for a different kind of monster movie.
The people of Earth successfully destroy an asteroid that threatened to wipe out all life; but the chemical fallout from the defense causes all cold-blooded life to mutate and eradicate the majority of human life. Seven years after the initial event, Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien) plans to leave his colony bunker to find his old girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick); risking his life in a post-apocalyptic, monster-filled hellscape to be reunited with his love.
Netflix is working hard to bring fun, popcorn friendly films to the masses, and Love And Monsters fits this oeuvre nicely. Dylan O’Brien does the majority of the work for this film, serving both as the narrator and often as the only human character on screen (accompanied, for the most part, by the very adorable companion character of Boy, who is a dog and a very good boy); and he has the screen presence and likeability required to hold his own during those sections. He also has good chemistry and an accessible, almost nerdy charm when interacting when his castmates; Joel’s relationship with the rest of his colony is effectively demonstrated both through the narration and the interactions we see during the opening segment, and his eventual chemistry with Clyde and Minnow (Michael Rooker and Ariana Greenblatt) when he encounters them out in the wild do a lot of work to increase Joel’s likeability as a character, as Clyde and Minnow effectively analyse and develop his character’s weaknesses without undermining his likeability. It’s a very effective way of developing the character, and O’Brien carries this off well. When those segments receive callbacks later on, they’re layered in well, and O’Brien balances the action requirements with the character presence to ensure they’re called back effectively without being cheesy or awkward.
Michael Rooker was an excellent addition to this cast, and Clyde blends the ruthless survivalist of Merle from The Walking Dead with the paternal instincts of Yondu from Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. II, and his relationship with Minnow has exactly the amount of charm, tough love and sarcasm that you would expect from a Michael Rooker role in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Ariana Greenblatt impresses here, and while it isn’t her role in a major blockbuster film (she plays the young Gamora in Avengers: Infinity War), it’s the first chance many will get to see her in a more in-depth role outside of Stuck In The Middle, and she puts in an impressive performance here. Jessica Henwick gets her opportunity to shine as well, and while her appearances are more brief, she brings the same cool, calm attitude that we have seen from her in her previous roles, particularly Colleen Wing in Iron Fist.
Joel’s interactions with these characters covers the Love part of the title, but he also interacts with the other aspect – Monsters. A lot of effort has gone into the creature design, and the “cold-blooded creatures” hook is a great gateway into a focused design strategy. The majority of the monsters are effectively reminiscent of the creature they have mutated from; and those which are strikingly different from fauna which we are familiar with are extremely effective nightmare beasts. Joel’s battles with these creatures are impressive, and the CGI is fantastic, especially for a direct-to-streaming film of this kind. The monsters are staged well for the narrative too; with the action sequences containing enough drama, tension and humour to keep things fresh, even during the moments when things start to get gross. There are subtle nods to classic monster horrors franchises such as Alien and Jaws, and it’s clear that this is a film that was written and made by a team who love monster movies.
Love And Monsters is, perhaps, a love letter in itself to those films – though I may just be projecting intent with that thought. What I do know is that if you enjoy a laid back, fun and silly yet still tense and appropriately gross film about love and the monster apocalypse, then Love And Monsters may be the right movie to while away a couple of hours with.