Love and Monsters is my favorite kind of post-apocalyptic movie. It’s fun and funny, the kind of movie that doesn’t take itself seriously but at the same time recognizes that in an apocalypse, not everyone is going to be ripped and competent. Some of us are going to be the person that stays behind and mans the radio because they can’t fire a crossbow to save their or anyone’s lives.
Starring Dylan O’Brien as Joel Dawson, Love and Monsters is set seven years after an apocalyptic event caused all cold-blooded animals – insects, reptiles, fish, etc. – to mutate. 95% of the population was wiped out, and the survivors have retreated to underground bunkers. Joel has spent the entire time searching for his high school girlfriend and has finally found her. When he loses communication with her colony, he resolves to trek 85 miles through the monster-infested wilderness to find her.
In the NYCC panel, O’Brien described this film as a coming-of-age story, and I remember thinking that was an odd way to frame it, considering it was a monster movie. But it’s actually completely accurate since the film is much less about fighting monsters and more about Joel’s personal growth. When the movie starts, we learn he is the person in the colony who cooks and cleans and mans the radio; he is terrified of the monsters and has a tendency to freeze when confronted. As he travels, he becomes more self-reliant and capable.
That was something I appreciated about Joel as a character. He wasn’t a Snake Plissken or a Mad Max; he was a normal guy living in abnormal circumstances. He was proud of his minestrone recipe but everyone in his colony knew he wasn’t someone they wanted guarding their backs in a crisis. Too often in films like this, people display behavior that just isn’t believable given the situation. Joel learns along the way; he doesn’t start out knowing everything. Maybe the rate at which he learns is a little outside the realm of possibility, but it is still a movie.
It may not be truly about monsters, but they are a great addition. Having the animals mutate is an inspired choice; it allowed for variety not only in their look but also their behavior. The scene where Clyde (Michael Rooker) is teaching Joel survival skills was a fabulous bit of world-building that really enhanced the experience. (We agreed during our watch party that Joel’s monster handbook is something that needs to be sold as merchandise.) They looked great as well. Yes, zombies can be terrifying but nothing is more frightening to me than giant bugs. I don’t even like normal-sized bugs.
The atmosphere was one of the best things about Love and Monsters. Director Michael Matthews did a fantastic job depicting a world in which nature has reclaimed itself. It was in the abandoned, moss-covered vehicles and the trees that continued growing, taking the bikes that were chained to them along for the ride. This was filmed in Australia, so I’m not sure how much it looked like California, but it certainly added to the grand, sweeping majesty of the landscape.
I was a bit concerned that Aimee (Jessica Henwick) would end being just a goal – a plot device without her own agency or motivations; she is and she isn’t. She certainly starts that way for Joel, but there is still a fair bit of movie after their reunion, so you know it isn’t just a happily-ever-after-kiss and then boom, credits. The film acknowledges the dangers of romanticizing a person for years because people change. I mean, just look at Joel and how much he changes over the course of the week it takes for him to reach Aimee.
A lot of the secondary characters were great. We didn’t spend as much time with Clyde and Minnow (Arianna Greenblatt) as I thought we would, based on the trailer, but they really were fantastic alongside Joel. Minnow was a perfect representation of a child growing up in a post-apocalyptic world; at times she was absolutely feral, but she turned into a typical kid when she saw Boy (the dog) and got all giddy when Joel offered her a tube of lipstick he’d intended as a gift for Aimee. Likewise, Clyde was a very nuanced character. You expect him to be standoffish and cold, but he has genuine affection for Minnow – and later, Joel – and does his best to prepare Joel for traveling alone. (I would absolutely watch a spinoff featuring these two.)
Love and Monsters is clever and fun, a movie with action and heart and really cool monsters. This is definitely a movie that deserves repeat viewings (and sequels and spinoffs) because of the rich world it’s created.
Love and Monsters is currently available digitally on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Google Play, Apple TV, Fandango Now, and Xfinity.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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