The Maze Runner’s Dylan O’Brien headlines this hugely entertaining monster apocalypse adventure that’s currently available to stream on Netflix. Combining imaginative creature designs, a witty script, appealing characters and exciting action sequences, it deserves to be a monster hit. Matthew Turner brings a crossbow to a giant centipede fight.
Given the nature of most genre properties these days, it comes as something of a pleasant surprise to discover that Love and Monsters is an original screenplay (co-written by Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson), rather than being based on a novel, comic book or video game. Also, it’s come along at exactly the right time, because, as evidenced by the likes of 2021’s Godzilla Vs Kong and Monster Hunter (which isn’t nearly as good, but still), monsters are, like, soooooo hot right now.
Directed by Michael Matthews, the film is set seven years after a monster apocalypse, where all the world’s cold-blooded animals (so, reptiles, amphibians, etc) have mutated into giant man-eating monsters. It’s our fault, of course – as a lovely animated prologue explains, the mutations are the result of the Earth nuking a giant asteroid that was on course to destroy the planet.
As the story begins, timid 24-year-old Joel (Dylan O’Brien) has grown tired of sharing an underground bunker with a dozen or so 20-somethings, not least because he’s the only one without a partner. When he learns that his beloved former girlfriend Aimee (Iron Fist’s Jessica Henwick) is in a colony just 85 miles away, he makes the bold decision to set out and find her, despite the fact that he has “a bit of a serious freezing problem” when it comes to monster confrontation.
Along the way, Joel is befriended by a loyal dog named Boy (played by Hero and his stand-in, Dodge) and receives valuable survival from two survivors (played by Michael Rooker and Ariana Greenblatt). However, when they part ways, Joel still has a lot of monster-dodging to do before he reaches Aimee.
The monster sequences are so good that they’ve earned the film a richly deserved Best Visual Effects Oscar nomination. As such, the creatures are beautifully detailed and have clearly been created by someone with love and affection for the monster-movie genre. Highlights include a giant mutated toad, a scary-looking centipede (might be an earwig, let’s not nit-pick) and the lesser-spotted boulder snail.
On top of that, Matthews clearly knows his way around a monster battle, staging a couple of nicely choreographed and genuinely exciting giant beastie encounters that don’t always play out the way you expect. On a similar note, the world-building is extremely impressive and the frequently very funny script is packed with imaginative ideas – this isn’t the place you’d expect to find a great movie robot, for example, yet that sequence turns out to be one of the film’s best scenes.
O’Brien is terrific in the lead, delivering an extremely likable performance that’s a far cry from the typical stiff-jawed YA hero you usually find in this sort of thing. Instead, Joel is something of a screw-up (there’s a great running gag about why he’s left his colony) – he’s frequently petrified (literally) and makes plenty of mistakes, but he also learns as he goes along and improves his self-esteem in the process. There’s also strong support from Henwick (who deserves a much higher profile) and a smartly cast Rooker proves a welcome presence as grizzled survivor Clyde.
That said, the acting accolades are nearly stolen by Hero and Dodge, whose canine performances are so good that you can’t quite believe the filmmakers haven’t performed a bit of sneaky CGI wizardry. If all the four-legged friend action is indeed down to the film’s dog wranglers, then hats off to them.
Although the film is entirely original, there are nonetheless a handful of fun references (or deliberate homages) to a number of different movies, from 1975’s A Boy and His Dog (the fact that the dog is named Boy feels like an acknowledgment there) and Mysterious Island to Tremors and more recent films like Zombieland. There’s even a nod to the leech scene from Stand By Me. In fact, if you’re a movie nerd, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the reference spotting alone, not least because it’s all seamlessly integrated rather than being a series of nudge-wink moments.
In short, this is a hugely enjoyable monster adventure, thanks to a strong concept, imaginative direction, likable performances and Oscar-nominated (possibly Oscar-winning – watch this space) creature designs. Put simply, this is one of the best genre films of the year – bump it right to the top of your Netflix queue.