Post-apocalyptic action comediesare nothing new, but what makes them interesting are the time and effort it takes in order to immerse you in its world. Michael Matthew’s Love and Monsters spends the necessary time to build its world and is all the better for it.
Dylan O’Brien stars as Joel Dawson, one of the survivors of the apocalypse. Seven years prior, the world learned of an asteroid headed towards Earth, and responded by blowing it up with nuclear weapons. The resulting fallout mutated the wildlife and brought about the destruction of most everything on the surface.
Joel lives in an underground bunker with a group of coupled-up survivors. Joel has other issues than just his loneliness: despite his bravery, he has a tendency to freeze up when the moment to act arrives. After he reconnects with his pre-apocalpyse girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick), Joel decides to venture out on his own on the surface and trek the 80 miles in order to reach Aimee’s colony and be with her.
Along the way, Joel has to learn how to survive in the unknown wilds and documents his discoveries in a well-illustrated notebookt. Joel runs into a highly intelligent owner-less dog named Boy, as well as a pair of survivors Clyde (Michael Rooker) and Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt). Realizing that Joel needs help, Clyde and Minnow teach Joel the ropes on how to survive and what monsters do what.
All the while, he pines for Aimee, not knowing what kind of reception he will receive. Will she leap into his arms and resume their romance, or is he just fooling himself into believing the unreasonable? This is a question Joel asks himself the entire journey.
Matthews and screenwriters Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson build a lush world with a few clean set pieces. Joel’s adventures take place in unchecked California forest and the various monsters pop up in interesting ways and each face their own challenges. Additionally, Joel’s voiceover is ever-present due to his writing of unsent letters or records intended for Aimee. This world is fully explained as Joel explains everything to Aimee that feels organic.
A world built around death and destruction can feel desensitized to violence, but the constant death and sorrow from that death is addressed smartly. Also, survival instincts are addressed as learning opportunities, rather than something that is built as an innate characteristic. Despite the setting, the film is brightly lit, featuring beautiful landscapes of mountains and forests.
Each creature is uniquely designed and feels separate from each other. Mutated versions of frog, snails and crabs show up and each have their own personality and traits. The special effects team does a great job of making these larger-than-life creatures feel like they live in this environment.
O’Brien is in almost every scene and he is more than up to the task. Joel is no obvious hero and he doesn’t have the sharp wit and quips that you would expect. He is a charming, sweet guy and the end of the world doesn’t seem to mesh with him, which makes O’Brien’s performance so winning. Henwick doesn’t show up for a while, but when she does, she proves equally capable of surviving in a physical sense, but also shows great mental acuity, which would obviously be needed. Rooker and Greenblatt pair well as a mismatched duo, but sensible charm exude through. Greenblatt especially transcends the material with a great performance.
Love and Monsters proved to be one of the big surprises of the film year for me. With a charismatic lead and a well-built world, I would happily dive into this film again and again.