Love and Monsters is your typical summer blockbuster: it has a likeable lead in Dylan O’Brien, the premise and setting is promising, there’s a dog – I mean, all the basic ingredients for entertainment are there. So, it’s definitely a bummer that the only way to watch Love and Monsters is at home, since it has been released on PVOD. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still enjoyable, but it’s really the kind of movie that works more on the big screen.
Dylan O’Brien is our protagonist Joel Dawson, whose world has plunged into a post-apocalyptic nightmare where weapons that were unleashed to save us from an asteroid backfire (though it does destroy said asteroid). The chemical fumes rain down onto Earth (and some other science stuff I’m sure I’m forgetting), leading to the transformation of the animals and insects on the planet. So cockroaches are now the size of a tank (as if their regular size wasn’t creepy enough), and some of these creatures will destroy you. Humans start retaliating the only way they know how, through more weapons and bombs, leading to widespread destruction and devastation.
The only way to survive is to go underground, and to stay within the confines of a colony. It’s not a thriving situation, as we see that Joel’s colony gets multiple breaches from the world above. To make matters worse, Joel is known for freezing when it comes to do or die situations, so while his colony appreciates his presence, they don’t actually need him there. Also, with most of the colony paired up, Joel finds himself alone and lonely. He lost his parents and Aimee (Jessica Henwick), the girlfriend that he had before everything went done-zo seven years ago, is at another colony, which is miles away.
One day, he decides just talking with her over the radio isn’t enough, he needs to make his way to her. It’s a quest story à la The Great Gatsby (though more adventure and less colossal dream), and so Joel heads to the surface to make the 7 day journey to her. On his quest, he encounters Boy, a clever dog who has lost his owner, and survival experts Clyde (Michael Rooker) and Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt). Boy, the dog, is amazing. He is remarkably communicative, and he and O’Brien make an excellent team. Joel’s experiences with Clyde and Minnow are a bit more standard, you know, teaching a boy to be a man, kind of like Tallahassee and Columbus in Zombieland.
I like that they managed the realism of Joel’s skills, well, somewhat. He doesn’t turn into a remarkable survivalist within the 7 days, but he does learn how to manage a crossbow, and using parts of nature to help him survive, though it is sometimes a tad convenient. There are some fun showdown scenes with various creatures, but there is only so much the film can stretch the charisma of O’Brien. After a while, it gets a bit tedious and you’re just waiting for him to complete his quest. The film’s conclusion isn’t the one you’d expect, but it’s also not the most satisfying, since it seems to be building up to a possible sequel.
My favourite thing about the film is the way it treats living and non-living creatures. Boy the dog is given such agency, and even the A.I that is introduced, Mav1s (voiced by Melanie Zanetti), is remarkably empathetic and characterised well. There also seems to be a solemn respect for nature, where Joel learns that not all creatures are out to kill you, and a little bit of kindness can go a long way. It may be a simple adventure story, but it has complex things to say about the world and a self-awareness not all dystopian narratives have. I just wished the human characters were a bit more interesting.
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Love and Monsters is enjoyable because of Dylan O'Brien and some solid canine acting, but it doesn't quite match the rewatch quality of other movies with similar premises, like Zombieland or even The Maze Runner.
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