It seems like Dylan O’Brien can’t catch a break when it comes to the end of the world. No sooner has he polished off starring in the teen apocalypse Maze Runner series than he returns to lead Love and Monsters, a movie about…well…you get the idea.
As a delightfully animated and comically dark intro shows us: the world has gone to pot. The cause? Well, apparently using missiles to blast a world-ending meteor out of the sky worked fine but had an unintended side effect of raining radiation all over the planet. The sort of radiation that mutates, and mutates big. So now we have a world where every lizard, frog, spider, ant, or other fauna has exploded in both size and amount of eyes. Which leaves humanity much further down the food chain than we are used to.
Cue some rather glorious monster effects work. Love and Monsters’ low to mid-range budget of $30 million has been put to good use as gargantuan frogs and behemoth crabs claim the overworld. The tone is nestled nicely between a light hearted coming of age/hero’s journey flick and B-movie creature feature.
Seven years after the world got devoured and with 95% of the human population wiped out, survivors cling to life in underground bunkers. Joel (O’Brien) is one such survivor but he isn’t enjoying it much. In a land where everyone is coupled up and there is limited privacy, he longs to see his girlfriend who unfortunately lives in a bunker over 70 miles away. Despite having minor issues like freezing in terror at inopportune moments and being useless with weapons, he resolves to make the trek. For love.
Thankfully both the script and O’Brien balance the character well. He’s initially inept but it isn’t laid on thick for comedy slapstick. Through his constant narration and carefully spaced out flashbacks, Joel comes across as a sweet but naïve youth simply out of place in a land where seven-foot-tall ants could break into your home in search of chomping you in half. Perfectly reasonable, really. Once out in the world, Joel goes through a satisfying if predictable journey of conquering fear, learning survival lessons (thanks to one ragged looking Michael Rooker and a spikey kid called ‘Minnow’), and making fluffy boi dog friends.
As the audience, we are well aware that his journey may be ultimately fruitless when it comes to rekindling a long separated love, played by Jessica Henwick (best known as Colleen Wing from Marvel’s Iron Fist). The final act of the film plays this out as well as a surprise or two in the form of a would be rescue for the group by a dashing navy captain and his crew. Henwick’s story has little agency beyond being the object of Joel’s affections, but she is warm and tough and embodies an ending that thankfully refuses to be cookie-cutter saccharine.
Ultimately Love and Monsters doesn’t throw any surprises at you, but watching it brings into focus the fact that there really aren’t many films like this anymore: mid-sized monster movies that aren’t played for guts, gore, or gratuity. It’s not low-budget splatter nor is it setting up a teen franchise.
What you get is a solid 2 hours of entertainment with wonderful creature nastiness and relatively low stakes with a likeable lead. We are tempered under the hammer of circumstance; Love and Monsters offers an end result where battling such diversity leads to a can-do attitude and experience in surviving lethal mega-worms, and who can’t relate to that?
Words by Mike Record