Though it’s set seven years into a “monster-pocalypse” that has bumped humans to the bottom of the food chain, this film doesn’t go in for chilly bleakness. Instead, it offers a sweet and moderately scary adventure story driven by an enormously appealing performance from The Maze Runner‘s Dylan O’Brien. Love and Monsters isn’t deep, but it’s certainly diverting.
The backstory behind this “monster-pocalypse” sounds like pure nonsense, so it’s best not to question it. Basically, the human race launched a load of rockets at an asteroid heading for earth, causing a massive chemical imbalance that turned insects, amphibians and other cold-blooded creatures into grotesque oversized versions of themselves. Against these giant nasties, us humble humans stood no chance. So, for the past seven years, the few remaining survivors have been hunkering down in underground colonies while an array of dangerous beasts roam the earth.
Our hero, Joel (O’Brien), is stuck in a colony where his peers have all partnered up, leaving him to pine for Aimee (Iron Fist‘s Jessica Henwick), the high school sweetheart he last saw seven years ago. After reconnecting with her over the colony’s ham radio, self-effacing Joel makes an audacious decision: he’s going to brave the great outdoors to travel to Aimee’s colony 80 miles away.
His two-dimensional colony buddies put up a half-arsed fight, rightly fearing that timid and inexperienced Joel will be gobbled up by one of the many monsters that have terrorised them into submission. Joel won’t back down, though, and O’Brien conveys his wide-eyed wonder as he leaves the colony and enjoys his first taste of fresh air in years. Director Michael Matthews, who previously made the South African Western movie Five Fingers for Marseilles, wastes no time in establishing this film’s twin threads: mild frights and friendship. Within minutes Joel has adopted a stray dog he names “Boy” and evaded the hungry clutches of a colossal monster-frog hiding in a suburban pond.
The seven-day trek brings Joel into contact with Clyde (Michael Rooker), a wily survivor who feels like a minor character from The Walking Dead. (Funnily enough, Rooker appeared in that show’s early seasons as the brother of Normad Reedus’ character, Daryl Dixon.) Later, Dylan encounters another, smarmier survivor called Cap (Dan Ewing) whose motives towards Aimee’s colony may not be as altruistic as they seem. Even during a monster-pocalypse, there’s always someone on the make.
The film’s climactic action sequence is genuinely gripping, and the CGI monsters are convincing enough to justify its Best Visual Effects nod at this year’s Oscars. Throughout, there’s a breezy sincerity to proceedings that makes even Joel’s potentially mawkish encounter with a sentient robot feel touching. Love and Monsters can’t resist slathering on some cheese right at the end, but on this occasion, the slight self-indulgence definitely feels earned.
- Director: Michael Matthews
- Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker
- Release date: April 14 (Netflix)