Welcome to Love and Monsters, or should I say, Joel’s Declassified Monster Apocalypse Survival Guide. The second feature film by Michael Matthews is set in a world seven years after an apocalyptic event wiped out 95% of the Earth’s human population and caused the mutation of insects and amphibians into enormous killing machines. The president has been killed by a giant moth (oh, we wish!) and those who have survived hid underground. That’s where we find our protagonist and narrator, Joel (Dylan O’Brien). He resides in a colony, a bunch of people cooped up inside a bunker. There, everyone has found their soulmate to ride through this hell with, except Joel of course. He imagines living here is what college would have been like as his roommate sleeps with a girl in the bed next to his. He’s the cook keeping everyone fed and that’s basically all this group thinks he’s good for. He freezes when in fear—he says he’s working on it—and he’s a scaredy-cat, a liability. However, what Love and Monsters presents is an entertaining action-adventure of self-discovery and finding the strength that lies within ourselves.
The film flashes back seven years for necessary exposition, depicting the start of this catastrophic event and the separation of Joel from his sweetheart, Aimee (Jessica Henwick). It took him years to figure out the right radio frequency to contact her and it’s been a source of comfort and an escape for them both. But talking to her through a speaker isn’t enough. He wants to try the impossible: to venture out to the surface on his own and travel seven days on a quest to find his girl. Nothing stops love it seems, not even a dangerous terrain overrun by monsters. He isn’t alone on his quest the whole way, though, as he finds a companion in the form of an adorable pooch named Boy. Their scenes together are touching, especially as we see this relationship form and grow through all the frightening messes they get themselves into. They discover terrifying creatures along their journey, like giant frogs that can gobble you up with a flick of a tongue, and insects that are unrecognizable in their gigantic size that you can’t imagine they were once something small crawling unnoticed among us. They also meet interesting characters like Clyde (Michael Rooker), a very Woody Harrelson-esque role that isn’t a Woody Harrelson role, and a fearless, wise little girl named Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt), who both teach Joel all they know about survival in this new world. Everyone, even Boy, seems to doubt his decision—risking his life for a girl—and eventually, he begins to doubt it, too.
The film’s plot is cheesy in a way, but surprisingly not as predictable as you would think. It’s very YA, but with the vibe of a sci-fi video game thrown in. Without its YA elements, it could have been a chilling piece of horror, much more violent, much more gory, but it’s still effective in its fear factor, which, when you think about it, really isn’t that hard when the monsters are giant bugs. It doesn’t have the same depth as other apocalyptic tales do, but there’s no doubt it’s epic in scale and exciting from beginning to end. From the moment the score plays even before the film begins, we know we’re in for a thrilling ride as it has the same energetic, booming sound like other scores in action movies. There are great bits of action to complement this feeling. Love and Monsters is a film where you can’t trust any moment of reprieve; conflict is always around the corner to keep the narrative interesting and entertaining. “Shit gets crazy in the apocalypse,” Clyde says. Shit certainly does, especially when Joel comes face to face with one of those mutated abominations in all their impressive CGI. Like the creature design, the production design is impressive, too. Each underground home visited is completely lived in with every room containing the personality of the character that calls it theirs.
This is O’Brien’s show and he absolutely kills it as the charming, funny, nervous, and unprepared Joel. It’s also an emotional performance for the actor, as his character is taken on a journey that makes him revisit loss and helps him to overcome fear and grief. It also helps him discover and value family, even that which is found. Through these themes, Matthews and co-writer Brian Duffield pen not just a monster movie, but one that’s a blast to watch and with a lot of heart.
Movie Score: 3.5/5