REVIEW: 'Love and Monsters' is a better movie than you think it's going to be
Warning: Mild spoilers ahead
Full disclosure: I stumbled upon this movie after riding the coattails of a Teen Wolf rewatch (don't @ me, season 3 was a genuine masterpiece and I will not hear otherwise). With that in mind, I was expecting a good time, but I definitely wasn't expecting anything amazing. That said, I have now watched this movie twice, and I can confirm that it slapped each time.
So, if you're looking for a reason to watch it, here are five:
Reason 1: The premise isn't played out
At face value, it's easy to write it off as another classic post-apocalyptic movie that was heavily inspired by The Last Of Us, but it really brings a lot more to the table than you'd expect. The concept behind the film's apocalypse itself isn't anything I've ever really seen in this genre (though, to be fair, I may have missed something).
The film opens with a few minutes of exposition, told through kitschy drawings and a downbeat, comedic monologue that sets the scene of the film. During the opening sequence, Joel Dawson (our protagonist, played by Dylan O'Brien) explains that an asteroid named Agatha 616—I know, a classic apocalypse trope—was headed directly towards the earth. The twist is that instead of perishing amongst the wreck, humans decided that it would be a great idea to shoot it with a bunch of rockets (sounds about right)... and it worked.
However, while that dealt with the asteroid at hand, the fallout from said rockets ended up mutating the cold-blooded creatures of the world. So, now all the creepy crawlies and terrible amphibians on the earth are, like, 10-feet-tall and seven billion times more terrifying. Oh, and humans are no longer at the top of the food chain, which is not fun for us.
That brings us to the start of the film. Honestly, it was kind of refreshing to see an apocalypse scenario that seemed genuinely plausible in the near future. Humans bringing about their own downfall and being forced to isolate in bunkers is equal parts feasible and comically on-the-nose, given our ongoing health and climate crises. It's almost poetic. Lore aside, the opening sequence is also a great way for the film to introduce us to our protagonist before we even see him. It's a nice way to tie us into his perspective from the get-go because that's the only perspective we see for the rest of the film.
Reason 2: The casting is phenomenal
Speaking of our protagonist, the choice to cast Dylan O'Brien as the lead in this film was an excellent idea. For starters, O'Brien looks like he's 17 going on 30, which makes the flashbacks within the film seem believable (though, to his credit, his acting chops also play a big part here).
Further, he's one of the few people who could actually pull off a character like this. Joel Dawson is a massive sadboi who is so hung up on a girl he dated seven years ago that he's willing to stake his life on finding her—even if it's clear (at least, to the audience) that she's not into it. If he was played by literally anyone else, I would have hated him. However, O'Brien brings his trademark magnetic charisma to the character and renders Joel a genuinely loveable underdog as opposed to a sopping wet wipe.
The script also plays to O'Brien's strength‚ allowing him to showcase his range as an actor. He has a real talent for toeing the line between heavy and lighthearted themes effortlessly. Overall, the way the script is written in addition to O'Brien's stellar performances means that underscoring emotional moments with witty quips and jokes doesn't cheapen the scenes, which is something that I really appreciate with this film. There is cheese, there is heart, there is pain, and it's all done really, really well.
In addition to O'Brien, the cast is studded with some really incredible talent. Jessica Henwick, who played Nymeria Sand in Game Of Thrones, manages to make Aimee likeable and sympathetic despite her limited screen time. Further, Michael Rooker and Ariana Greenblatt—who you may recognise as Merle in The Walking Dead and Young Gamora in Avengers: Infinity War—play Clyde and Minnow, and their limited screentime is pretty much one of the only criticisms I have for this film.
PSST: Don't worry. I haven't forgotten the real MVP of this film. That brings us to...
Reason 3: Dog
Boy, the dog that befriends Joel, is the heart of this film. Played by Hero, an Australian Kelpie, Boy is probably my favourite character.
Don't be fooled by the fact that's he's a dog. He's actually an incredible actor too—arguably, he's a better actor than anyone on this cast (which is saying a lot, considering how much I adore this cast).
Without him, I sincerely doubt that this film would have been as good. I really mean that. I don't want to spoil too much, but the relationship between Joel and Boy is one of the most poignant bonds between two characters that I've ever seen on screen. Yes, I know he's a dog. When you watch it, you'll get it.
Reason 4: The storytelling and writing
Ladies and gentlemen: Brought to you by the same producer, director, and cinematographer who gave you the other 'monsters-versus-underdogs' plot of Stranger Things, here's Love and Monsters. In all seriousness, while the great cast is the most visibly commendable part of the film, the direction and screenplay in Love and Monsters is actually something to write home about, too.
The overarching storyline is kind of predictable, but the reason this film works so well isn't because of some elaborate plot with a thousand twists and turns—it's because the plot is so simple that it is effective. From the get-go, you can pretty much guess what's coming next—we know that Joel is going to survive and we know that Aimee isn't just waiting for him at the end... but that's kind of the point.
The plot being simplistic allows us to explore the more gripping aspects of the film: Take, for example, Joel's character development from a lovesick baby who makes minestrone to a self-realised leader with an actual backbone. You watch him grow and improve, which is what makes the end so rewarding.
Plus, the intention in this film is so well-established—each scene in the film explores another way for him to grow emotionally and physically. Besides, between the point where he leaves his bunker and the point where he finds Aimee (and after), so much happens that is worth watching, even if you do guess the end.
It's also not the kind of horror/fantasy movie where you're screaming at idiot characters who are making terrible decisions for the sake of plot device. Every single character is fleshed out—they all have stakes in this world (yes, especially the dog), and ultimately, they all feel like they belong in the story. As such, they also all react to situations in a way that feels realistic. There isn't a single point in this film where I'm thinking "that would never happen" or "who would even do that?". The film successfully transports you into its world, allowing you to live vicariously through its characters.
All of that, along with the breathtaking visual storytelling in this film, makes for an effective piece of media that looks as great as it is.
Reason 5: The monsters
The monsters are terrifying. I was sweating the entire time. As a general, insects are just disgusting, horrible little creatures and I hate them. It's nothing personal, it's just everything about bugs that makes me want to cry and—full disclosure—I spent every second of the monster scenes dry heaving.
Believe it or not, that is a testament to how well the monsters are designed. Though they are mutated and grotesque in monster form, it's still very clear which critter inspired them. In short, because the monsters feel so plausible, they are genuinely menacing to the viewer (at least in my experience they are).
It's even more impressive when you realise that the monsters are created through a mix of CGI and practical effects. There are people in some of those monster suits! Plus, you would expect cheesy-looking or unconvincing monsters considering that most of the scenes happen in broad daylight (which is notoriously unforgiving to SFX), but the film somehow manages to strike the perfect balance. It's really incredible.
I can't bring up the monsters without talking about the phenomenal sound design, either—each critter sounds like your bog-standard movie monster, but they are also given individual quirks and variations to set them apart and make them believably insect-y. It's insanely bone-chilling.
Finally, I've previously talked about my issue with action-packed films and TV shows being unable to adequately escalate stakes (cough—Supernatural—cough), and how frustrating it is when the antagonists only get more and more impossible for no reason. This film managed to get it right.
Each monster we encounter in the film feels intentional and well thought out. They all pose different sets of difficulties for Joel, but there is no ridiculous deus ex machina needed to bail him out. He (and Boy) is all he needs.
PSST: I also like that the real monsters were the humans all along. Watch the movie and you'll get it.
Honourable mention: The set design
I would've added this onto the list, but five things seemed like a nice place to stop. So, without further ado, here's my honourable mention. In addition to all the other wonderful factors that make the movie great, the set design is extraordinary.
The details are so good—spikes in the trees, slimy eggs clustered on the landscapes, giant wormholes that trypophobes would shudder at—and every shot is riddled with clues into the world and its history. Of course, no surprise, it's the work of Lord of the Rings production designer, Dan Hennah. Go figure.
All in all, this film is definitely worth a watch. Lucky for you, you can watch it now on Netflix.
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