Release Date(s)2020 (January 5, 2021)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C+
Love and Monsters opens with a voiceover and assorted illustrations informing us that 95% of the human population was obliterated after rockets were fired into an asteroid that threatened to destroy Earth. It was successfully smashed but the resulting chemical fallout that rained down turned relatively harmless wildlife into marauding monsters. Survivors then gathered together in colonies across the world.
Among them is Joel (Dylan O’Brien, the Maze Runner series), who has been living in an underground bunker with other survivors. Everyone is paired with a companion except for him. Pining for his girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick), who is in a colony 85 miles away, he decides to risk the perilous trek to reach her. And indeed there is danger, in the form of horrible, huge beasts that are simultaneously humorous and revolting. Through sheer luck and unexpected interventions, Joel is spared to continue his quest. He keeps a notebook, making a point to draw the monsters he encounters, noting their behavior, and recording everything he learns on his journey. This accumulated knowledge saves his life on many occasions, showing that paying attention is important, even though it’s the end of the world.
Director Michael Matthews gives Love and Monsters a light tone, bringing in CGI creatures periodically to keep things interesting. O’Brien, who has charm and movie star looks, plays Joel as self-effacing, bordering on cowardly. He’s the antithesis of an action hero yet nonetheless must extricate himself from dire predicaments. The PG-13 rating means that the violence is stylized and never gets graphic, making it more of a romp than an apocalyptic downer. Glib one moment, terrified the next, and philosophical in yet another, Joel is motivated by his love for Aimee and is willing to risk it all to be with her.
Joel is also helped for part of his journey by Clyde (Michael Rooker), an above-ground survivor who has learned to live by his wits, consequently giving Joel practical pointers on survival. Clyde is accompanied by Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt), an 8-year-old girl who’s as deft with her instincts as she is with her crossbow. Joel’s most memorable companion, however, is Boy, a dog he finds along the way and who tags along with him. An unquestionable scene stealer, Boy has some great moments. When Joel banters with him, Boy is a good listener.
The monsters are imaginative and have been infused with personality, making them both silly and oddly realistic. The blend of live action with computer animation looks good, and there are some icky moments when Joel has up-close encounters with them. Occasional flashbacks show us Joel’s relationship with Aimee and reinforce his desire to push on.
Featuring 1080p resolution, the Blu-ray release of Love and Monsters from Paramount is presented in the widescreen format of 2.39:1. Overall, the picture is pristine. Detail and contrast are sharp, especially in the design of the giant creatures. A behemoth pond creature and fluttery jellyfish-like organisms are particularly well crafted. Flesh tones are warm. Individual blades of grass, dirt on Joel’s face, Aimee’s creamy complexion, the bark on trees, strands of Joel’s tousled hair, and Clyde’s unkempt beard are sharp. Lachlan Milne’s cinematography takes advantage of the widescreen format with beautiful vistas of dense forests, plains, and vast expanses of rolling hills.
The soundtrack is English 7.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio. Subtitles include English, English SDH, and Spanish. Balance is exceptional, with especially good moments when the monsters are on screen. Dialogue is sharp and clear even though minor characters in Joel’s underground bunker mumble. The creatures’ roars and subsequent mayhem simulate left to right and right to left movement effectively. Crossbow discharges have a snappy, propulsive sound, and Joel’s shouts and grunts on his quest contrast with his easygoing sarcasm and quips early on. The narration is heard sporadically, bridging scenes and revealing Joel’s state of mind.
Bonus materials include deleted scenes and two brief behind-the-scenes featurettes. A Digital code is included on a paper insert within the package.
Deleted Scenes – Seven deleted scenes are included: Hopeless Romantic, Without Love, What’s the Point?, Car Critter, Good Luck Charm, You Guys Are Safe Now, and Back to the Bunker. All but one are slow-moving, redundant, or extraneous. The exception is Car Critter, a suspenseful, tense scene in which Joel sits in an abandoned car as something stalks him. We hear a creature, but the clouded windows of the car prevent a clear view of what’s outside. Joel’s fear escalates as the creature pierces through the back seat.
Bottom of the Food Chain: The Cast of Love and Monsters – Director Michael Matthews, actor Dylan O’Brien, and other actors and crew members discuss their roles and significance to the plot. Matthews notes that the film is “an old-fashioned story about a guy discovering himself.” It’s as if we’ve gone back in time. Humans have lost the world and gone underground to hide from the monsters. According to O’Brien, “Joel is still a kid who’s never really come of age. He’s a scaredy cat who wants to be heroic and protect the people he loves.” Joel expresses himself as an artist, drawing pictures of the creatures. The film’s animal trainer notes that Boy and O’Brien developed the greatest off-camera bonding she’s ever seen. Interspersed with brief interviews are scenes from the film.
It’s a Monster’s World: Creating a Post-Apocalyptic Landscape – Australia was selected for location filming because its landscape looks both futuristic and modern and provided grandeur. A tour of the bunker set features details such as canned and packaged foods, makeshift weapons, a baby carriage made from a shopping cart, and separate areas for the survivors to carry out their designated tasks. There’s even a stall to house the bunker’s resident cow. A beach cove, which dominates the film’s final third, was made from a nondescript park area. Tons of sand were brought in to accommodate two weeks’ worth of filming. The spot was chosen because it would be safe from the tides.
Post-apocalyptic movies have been a staple of Hollywood as far back as the silent period. With rare exceptions, they’re serious excursions into the “What if” form of fiction. Often somber and depressing, other times hopeful, most treat the subject with respectful fascination as they weave a psychological tale of an Earth that might be. The genre had particular resonance during the Cold War, with such films as On the Beach, Fail Safe, Dr. Strangelove, and The Omega Man. In Love and Monsters, we are Joel’s travel companions as he braves a strange world fraught with danger. The film’s balance of humor and action works well and never leans too far in either direction. It’s an entertaining film with an appealing star, an irresistible canine co-star, and a coming-of-age plot that offers some surprises.
– Dennis Seuling