Post-apocalyptic films set in a dystopian world are made by the dozen each year in Hollywood. Despite its shortcomings, Love and Monsters stands apart in this all too familiar territory.
Love and Monsters picks up seven years after the apocalypse. Seven years ago, an asteroid heading towards Earth was blown up by rockets to save the Earth, but in the process, toxic chemicals rained down on Earth which mutated cold-blooded creatures into huge monsters. Cities, countries, armies have all been destroyed.
Now, these gigantic creatures have taken over the surface and come on top of the food chain, forcing the few remaining survivors to live in underground colonies.
The film follows Joel (Dylan O’Brien) living in an underground colony with other survivors. He manages the radio, cleans up around the place and does the cooking. He cannot go on hunting expeditions because he freezes and as a result puts others at risk.
All his fellow survivors are in relationships, leaving him single and alone. He reminiscences about his days with his high school girlfriend, Aimee (Jessica Henwick), with whom he recently came in contact with.
Remembering the promise he made to find her, seven years ago, Joel, despite having no survival skills, sets out on a journey to her coastal colony 95 miles, seven days away on foot. Love and Monsters follows him on this journey full of, as the title points out, love and monsters.
Dylan O’Brien plays the awkward, insecure but ultimately lovable, Joel. O’Brien has come a long way since his first notable role as the lead in the Maze Runner franchise. Although both films are set in post-apocalyptic worlds full of monsters, O’Brien’s characters are very different.
Joel freezes in dangerous situations but is not cowardly. He wants to do better but he just can’t. O’Brien’s charming performance is one of the biggest strengths of Love and Monsters. He doesn’t play a typically confident, brave and adept protagonist that such films tend to have. Instead, he is timid and meek.
Jessica Henwick plays Aimee, O’Brien’s long lost high school girlfriend and the leader of the coastal colony. Henwick is primarily known for her role in Marvel’s Netflix series, Iron Fist. She already had a background in action productions like Iron Fist, which definitely helped her in this film. Fortunately, she is not just an object of adoration of the protagonist, but a leader with her own problems to tackle.
Michael Rooker plays Cylde, a survivor Joel meets on the surface. He is a toughened survivor who acts as a mentor to Joel. Rooker is adequate in his limited role and sticks to the gruff but affectionate character he had in Guardians of The Galaxy (2014).
The film does not have many other characters. Other characters do a decent enough job and do not stand out in a jarring manner.
From its generic title to its run off the mill storyline set in a forgettable post-apocalyptic world, Love and Monsters should not have worked. But surprisingly it is a fun watch with moments of genuine thrill and laughter. This is director Michael Matthews’ second feature-length film and the first with a substantial budget and well-known actors.
Love and Monsters uses narration, which is the laziest way to tell a story, but surprises yet again as it does not use narration solely for the purpose of exposition but rather for insights into the character and his reaction to this world.
The first act of the film is splendid. The jokes land, the performances are great, the story feels familiar yet different. The world-building is also excellent, grounded and consistent. What really helps the film is that it does not take itself too seriously. It knows what it is. The writers Matthew Robinson and Brian Duffield know the tropes and cliches even when they are playing into them.
Despite the humour and lack of seriousness, the film is also quite tense when it needs to be.
Love and Monsters has an enjoyable first half, but as it goes into its second half, it starts to lag. Despite having a runtime of under two hours, the film cannot maintain attention throughout. It especially drags in the last 30 minutes.
The writing of the film is such that it is made quite evident that things are being set up for the second half. Such exposition is not well hidden and lies in plain sight, making the outcomes less rewarding.
Love and Monsters is not really novel and neither is its execution. It is predictable and full of cliches and tropes. The second half of the film is cheesy and seems rather crowd-pleasing instead of being consistent with the characters.
The graphic and special effects of the film also do not hold up. Most creatures look visibly fake and the landscapes could also have been better.
Love and Monsters has everything; action, comedy, romance, drama. It is a fun, lighthearted watch about the aftermath of the end of the world which seems timely in this post-lockdown world.