Dylan O’Brien as Joel Dawson
Michael Rooker as Clyde Dutton
Ariana Greenblatt as Minnow
Jessica Henwick as Aimee
Dan Ewing as Cap
Donnie Baxter as Parker
Ellen Hollman as Dana
Directed by Michael Matthews; Co-Written by Brian Duffield & Matthew Robinson
Love and Monsters Review:
2020 may have brought us a lot of terrible things, both in the world and on film, but one of the brighter things to come from this year is the chance to truly witness the genius that is the mind of Brian Duffield. Beginning with the highly underrated aquatic thriller Underwater and continuing with the explosively charming Spontaneous, the time has now arrived for his post-apocalyptic romantic comedy Love and Monsters, and he has delivered another joyous, energetic and incredibly fresh take on a well-worn genre.
Seven years after the Monsterpocalypse, Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien), along with the rest of humanity, has been living underground ever since giant creatures took control of the land. After reconnecting over radio with his high school girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick), who is now 80 miles away at a coastal colony, Joel begins to fall for her again. As Joel realizes that there’s nothing left for him underground, he decides against all logic to venture out to Aimee, despite the dangerous monsters that stand in his way.
The world has ended a lot of different ways in film and television over the years, ranging from the cartoonish dystopias of Aeon Flux and Ultraviolet to the dramatically haunting The Road and It Comes at Night, and Duffield finds a nice in-between of grounded and outlandish with rockets being shot into space to prevent an incoming asteroid from destroying the planet, the chemical fallout breeding the titular enemy to O’Brien’s Joel and Henwick’s Aimee, as well as the rest of humanity.
The resulting post-apocalypse is actually a really interesting and well-thought-out world that feels like the best elements of similar genre fare in the YA novel world without simultaneously feeling like it’s borrowing or stealing from them. Underground clans fearing outsiders and being untrustworthy of members within their own ranks is believable given the situation unfolding in their — and even our — world, but the addition of everyone in Joel’s having a partner and pretty much having sex nonstop is an incredibly funny and unique take.
The characters themselves are also a nice change of pace for a more YA storyline, with protagonist Joel’s fear of monsters and initial inability to fight them actually coming from a fairly emotional root instead of a more generic general terror of them, while the evolution of Aimee from the opening flashbacks to her present-day persona offers audiences a new strong heroine that I only wish was granted more screen time.
The characters are further elevated by stellar performances from its ensemble cast, namely that of O’Brien, Henwick, Michael Rooker and Ariana Greenblatt. Rooker is no stranger to a barbed-yet-caring father figure of sorts, but he is a joy to watch in every bit of scenery he’s given and the chemistry he shows with the young Greenblatt is sweet and highly effective.
The central Maze Runner star has frequently been offered the chance to show off his dramatic chops with the YA adaptation trilogy as well as MTV’s Teen Wolf and disaster biopic Deepwater Horizon, but it feels as though we rarely get to see him show a more comedic and goofily charming persona and he truly shines from start to finish in the role. Henwick’s Aimee feels like a warm and compelling blend of her Colleen Wing from the Marvel Netflix Universe, a character we sadly will most likely never see her as again, and Emily Haversham from Duffield’s own Underwater and she brilliantly taps into her character’s powerful and slightly tragic off-screen backstory as well as her kick ass and commanding on-screen nature.
There may be some familiarity in the development of the love story and the plot itself, but with a razor sharp script reminiscent of the best John Hughes movies, some stellar character designs and visual effects and charming performances from its ensemble cast, Love and Monsters is a thrilling and feel-good post-apocalyptic rom com adventure that is sure to delight every kind of audience.