Love and Monsters Review: A heartfelt hero’s journey through the apocalypse that shows O’Brien at his best
With his second feature film as a director, Michael Matthews not only creates an incredibly loveable apocalyptic adventure with Love and Monsters, but the potential for another Dylan O’Brien led franchise.
As deadly meteor is hurdling towards Earth, the US government does what they do best – fire a bunch of rockets at it and blow it to smithereens. However, their efforts create a much bigger problems as the chemical fallout from the rockets mutates most of the insect and reptilian life into gigantic monsters eliminate most of the human population and dominate the surface. Being forced underground to avoid a gruesome death, humans are now scavengers trying to acclimate to their new living conditions and survive with minimal resources.
On paper, Love and Monsters seems like the kind of post-apocalyptic setting we’re used to seeing, but it ends up being something much more interesting. Seeing gigantic, mutated frogs rise from murky water to spit their tongues at whatever they see, and skin-crawling giant centipedes rise from the ground really gives the film’s world a unique atmosphere. The create designs are so good that some of them look really real, with some of them even being practical, and the way that Matthews does action sequences are a lot of fun. They’re very movement-based stunts, which feel very reminiscent to O’Brien’s time in the Maze Runner series, are simple and never overdone. Also, the overall look and feel of the world gives off major vibes of the Fallout series and it makes being in that world so intriguing.
However, while it’s intriguing to explore as an outside voyeur, the same can’t be said for the humans of that world – especially for the film’s protagonist Joel (O’Brien). Stuck underground for seven years with his parents dead and his girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick) separated from him in another bunker, Joel has been beaten down by his situation and yearns to be with Aimee again. Joel’s bunker situation actually creates some instant empathy for him as he’s the only single man in his colony amongst a group of very sexually active couples – which makes him only miss Aimee even more. His isolation has also taken a heavy toll on his self-confidence and is often seen as weak by other colony members. He has a nasty habit of freezing and fears that their bunker won’t always protect them from the creatures above. However, one day, Joel’s had enough of hiding and decides to make the 85-mile trek to Aimee’s bunker to see her again and face the horrific monsters he finds along the way.
Joel’s journey on the surface is one of the most emotionally fulfilling and fun adventures I’ve seen this year in big part to O’Brien’s really great performance and the incredible story and script from Brian Duffield, who also just wrote the excellent Spontaneous, and Matthew Robinson. O’Brien really makes Joel the unlikely hero who you can’t help but love and root for and that really goes through some genuine growth on his journey. His unsureness and fear towards the world that he’s rising up to makes it easy to relate to him since every step and interaction he has could lead to his death.
O’Brien also creates a lot of great humor with Joel not exactly being the prime hero and it becomes even easier to emotionally attach yourself to him as his personal story begins to unfold. His motivation just to see the love of his life again is genuinely admirable and makes you care to see him succeed, but it’s really Joel grappling with his parents being gone that really gets the waterworks going. There’s a great scene where Joel finds a service robot, I know kind of weird, that helps him through some of his emotional turmoil over his parents’ death and it easily the most emotional point in the entire movie. It’s incredibly sweet with how the robot allows Joel to give a fitting goodbye to his parents and O’Brien really makes you teary-eyed with the great monologue he delivers. It’s a great showing of O’Brien’s range as an actor and why Joel is such a loveable hero.
Even better is the story from Duffield and Robinson as it builds lore and helps create a surprisingly light-hearted story of survival that’s incredibly reminiscent to one of my favorite horror comedies of all time – Zombieland. From the way that Joel initially describes the events that turned the world to the “rules for survival” that are established by a survivor named Clyde (Michael Rooker) that Joel runs into, the film’s Zombieland inspirations are definitely clear. However, it doesn’t rip off the movie as it has a visual style of its own through Joel’s journal drawings and the way that he logs and draws monsters he encounters as well as their weaknesses and how to kill them is great. It’s adds a strong element of lore that’s intriguing and works well within this adventure story with a lot of heart.
Although things start on a dour note with Joel’s being and feeling stuck, his journey slowly becomes an incredibly heartwarming experience as he meets other survivors and gets closer and closer to reuniting with Aimee. His relationships with Clyde and his young partner in crime Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt) as well as a dog he finds named Boy really set him straight with how he survives. He genuinely learns from his mistakes and it ultimately makes him rise to be the hero people need as an antagonist threatens everything he’s worked for in the final act. His time with others also makes the film’s hopeful ending more impactful and relevant as he learns and inspires others to not be afraid of the threats above them and fight to reclaim the world. Joel’s ending monologue is really inspiring and it’s great to have an ending be so fitting for the time we live in as they don’t downplay the threat, but make it clear that living in fear won’t solve anything.
Love and Monsters is a film that’s hard not to love as it builds a world that has a lot of compelling lore and creatures, an incredible lead performance from O’Brien that’s easily the best of his career, and an inspirational adventure story that’s familiar but finds it’s own footing in its hero’s journey. Personally, I’d love to see more of Love and Monsters in the future, or at least have this crew make something Fallout related because they definitely could make it awesome, and there’s a lot of potential shown here for this to be a really strong franchise. It’s really a can’t miss movie – especially if you’re a Zombieland fan like me.