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Review: Love and Monsters (2020)

Love and Monsters (2020)

Directed by: Michael Matthews

Premise: In the near future, giant monsters have overtaken the surface of the Earth and humans live in isolated shelters. A meek cook (Dylan O’Brien) decides to travel across the monster-infested countryside to reunite with his girlfriend (Jessica Henwick).

What Works: Love and Monsters is a fun monster movie romp. While it is working within a familiar genre, Love and Monsters is an original story—it isn’t based on a preexisting intellectual property—and the movie possesses a fresh and energetic verve. The story centers upon Joel, played by Dylan O’Brien, a cowardly young man who has been assigned the role of cook in his shelter because he so often loses his nerve when confronted by the monsters that have overtaken the Earth. But upon losing contact with his girlfriend’s bunker, Joel resolves to reunite with her. The trip is full of adventures with Joel finding his courage and learning to survive. This is done quite well and the filmmakers and actor Dylan O’Brien create a likable and vulnerable protagonist. That’s exemplified by Joel’s relationship with a dog. This is an old storytelling trick; the fastest way to valorize or villainize a character is showing how they interact with dogs or small children.  Joel’s relationship with the dog is used quite well, both establishing and growing his character in moments that have effective emotional payoffs. The filmmakers also make a few smart decisions with regard to the girlfriend played by Jessica Henwick. Oftentimes women in movies like this represent an end goal and little else. Henwick is allowed to be a real person with her own agency and the couple’s years of separation weighs on their relationship after they’ve reunited. The action of Love and Monsters comes at a regular pace and the set pieces are never too big or too overdone and they maintain credibility. The monsters look great. It’s unclear if the creatures were rendered entirely through digital technology or a mix of practical and digital effects; they have a consistent visual texture that’s impressive. Love and Monsters is also quite funny. The humor livens up the material and makes the characters empathetic without cheapening the action or the frights.

What Doesn’t: When Joel sets out on his journey he meets a pair of survivors played by Michael Rooker and Ariana Greenblatt. They’re with Joel for a sizable portion of the film and impart some survival tips before disappearing from the narrative. Road trip stories are by their very nature episodic with characters passing in and out of the narrative so the disappearance of Rooker and Greenblatt’s characters isn’t surprising. But these characters are the two most interesting and agreeable characters in the entire movie so it’s disappointing when they disappear.

DVD extras: Deleted scenes and featurettes.

Bottom Line: In a normal year, Love and Monsters should have been a sleeper hit. Due to the disruption of the movie industry during the coronavirus pandemic, the movie got lost. But Love and Monsters is highly satisfying mainstream entertainment that deserves to find an audience.

Episode: #835 (January 17, 2021)