Threatened with a deadly meteorite, the chemical fallout from Earth’s defences causes the planet’s insects, molluscs and assorted creepy crawlies to mutate to giant size, and wipe out 95% of the population. Thus, seven years into the apocalypse, Joel (Dylan O’Brien) lives in an underground bunker with a group of fellow survivors.
Crippled by a paralysing fear of the monsters, Joel gets by as the colony’s (reluctant) chef. But when he reconnects over the radio with his pre-apocalypse girlfriend, Aimee (Jessica Henwick), Joel decides to head out to find her. Along the way Joel befriends stray dog, Boy, who accompanies him on his journey and meets fellow travellers, Clyde (Michael Rooker) and Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt), who teach him survival skills and self-belief.
While the plot is essentially a standard quest through hazardous terrain, the performances and amiable nature of Love and Monsters elevate it to much more than the sum of its parts. Love and Monsters dispenses with showing us an origin story, instead, plonking us right down in the middle of the apocalypse, while Dylan O’Brien’s self-deprecating voice over brings us up to speed nicely. It gives a passing Zombieland vibe to the proceedings, when added to our nervy protagonist befriending survivors on the open road. But there’s enough originality and inventive monsterism, that Love and Monsters surpasses the comparison.
O’Brien cuts an agreeable figure as Joel. The journey is as much about his growing confidence and self-awareness as it is traversing a hostile landscape. Joel has been isolated in his colony, unable to go outside due to his monster-phobia, and has thus lived much of the past seven years inside his own head.
Contrast Joel with Aimee, who is a realist, having taken on the responsibility of her entire colony and lived a much harder apocalypse. Jessica Henwick, who was fantastic in both Iron Fist and Underwater, is an equally charming presence in Love and Monsters. So, on the face of it, Joel’s quest across monster-infested countryside seems like a perfectly reasonable, if ill thought-out idea. But there’s also some interesting story development as Love and Monsters subverts the predictable, besotted hero set-up.
As for the rest of the cast, Michael Rooker has plenty of apocalypse experience from The Walking Dead, and knows a thing or two about monster movies from his appearance in Slither. Once again, he is great value here, forming a survivalist double act with Ariana Greenblatt’s Minnow. Canine companion Boy (Hero and Dodge), aside from being an immediate and obvious crowd pleaser, allows Love and Monsters to cleverly verbalise Joel’s internal monologue through their interactions, without it ever feeling clunky.
There is also an interesting Australian connection to Love and Monsters, with filming taking place in Queensland and visual effects work undertaken in Adelaide. The effects and creature design definitely deserve special mention as Joel and Boy face off against a variety of super-sized bugs, invertebrates and amphibians, and they all look suitably gross and weathered and slimy (side note: it’s not clear why only insects mutated and humans, dogs and cows did not, but it’s probably best not to overthink these things).
Although this is ostensibly a movie about giant bugs, it’s Love and Monsters‘ giant heart that makes it so much fun. With likeable characters, appealing performances and imaginative creature design, you will have to work very hard not to have a good time here.
‘Love and Monsters’ is now streaming on Netflix – right HERE.