Sometimes there’s nothing more refreshing than a good old road movie. A nice, simple plot that involves our protagonist simply having to get from A to B while meeting eccentric characters along the way and having the odd obstacle to cross to build character often goes down smoother than a nice cup of tea and multiple genres have used it to great effect over the years. This brings us to Love And Monsters, Netflix’s genuinely sweet Mon-Rom-Com (the Mon stands for monsters) which takes the form of a perky adventure/comedy that sees likable actors try to traverse a creature laden landscape all because of a nice healthy dollop of oxytocin has commanded them to do so. After watching more than my fair share of post apocalyptic movies, for once the end of the world has never seemed so sweet…
Joel Dawson is one of the survivors of the Monsterpocalypse, a world ending event that saw an approaching meteorite get nuked by the world’s governments only to have the fallout mutate earth’s cold-blooded creatures into human gobbling monsters – when it rains, it pours, I suppose… Orphaned and seperated from his one true love, Aimee, Joel has spend the last seven years in a bunker where all the residents have naturally paired off into couples, leaving him in the unenviable position of being a fifth wheel at the end of the world – but salvation for this sad singleton seems to be just around the corner when he manages to contact his girl’s colony over the radio and spark up their old chemistry. Girding his (probably very full) loins, Joel decides he’s going to make the nearly 90 mile journey on foot through monster ridden territory in order to reunite with his old girlfriend but there’s a sizable problem with this plan and that it’s that Joel has all the survival instincts of a wet pillow. Plus on top of that, due to the trauma of seeing his parents smushed in front of him, our hero has a worrisome habit of freezing when danger rears it’s slobbering head so the chances of Joel lasting more than twenty minutes, let alone making it to the coastal colony, is slimmer than a pre-mutated stick insect. Luckily Joel bumps into a few allies on his journey, most noticably Boy, a smart (and very good) dog who is mourning the death of it’s previous owner and the father/daughter team of Clyde and Minnow, two suprisingly nice survivalists, and they aid him on his heart warming yet foolhardy quest for true love.
But even putting giant toad-monsters and nests of things called Sand Gobblers aside for a minute, it’s been seven years since Joel and Aimee last met and people can change in that amount of time even if the world wasn’t overrun by squishy, gut-crunchers. Will this whole well meaning enterprise turn out to be nothing more than an enormously dangerous, doomed fool’s errand?
Over the years there’s been many a movie and TV show set in a world where society as we know it has spectacularly turned it’s toes up, but chances are you won’t have seen many as adorable as Love And Monsters. Choosing to gloss over the horror and despair that would be distinctly noticable if mankind tumbled down the food chain like a stumbling pensioner overnight, the movie manages a nice balance between keeping things frothy and lighthearted while still keeping the various bug-eyed beasties an unscary threat that vaguely recalls the world building of Zombieland but with 50% less cynicism. People may get eaten, but no one’s gonna get hurt if you catch my drift.
Helping greatly to nail this pleasingly up-beat tone is Love And Monsters’ lead and after far moodier turns in the Maze Runner series, the Teen Wolf TV show and the stunningly grim American Assasin, it’s nice to see Dylan O’Brien play a jittery, loveable coward who is incredibly likeable and his transition to horribly vunerable noob to experienced hero feels genuine. A problem with any movie that hinges on a love-sick hero hanging all of his hopes and dreams on a girl is usually the girl isn’t scripted well enough to be worth the effort (I still maintain Scott Pilgrim should have ended up with Knives), but thankfully Iron Fist survivor Jessica Henwick proves to be worthy of Joel’s struggles as Aimee is hugely appealing while having become much tougher and independent than our hero remembers. That the film keeps it’s jovial tone while not taking the easy or predictable way out is impressive and it never once resorts to making it’s female lead a cypher for wish fulfilment.
While a lot of the other characters are fairly throwaway (a charming human villain here, a supportive colony member there), the supporting cast is giving a nice boot in the rear by the always welcome inclusion of Michael Rooker who’s playing a much friendlier version of the usual, tough-as-a-two-dollar-steak survivalist he seems to have cornered the market on ever since he first turned up as Merle in The Walking Dead. Even better than that, however, is the presence of Boy, the heart-burstingly adorable pupper who very nearly trots off with the entire film tucked into his little collar – it’s seemed like ages since we’ve had a great man and his dog combo on screen and this one is an out and out winner.
We’ve spoken openly about the love, so I guess it’s time to mention the other part of the title and those expecting gruesome, ruined forms of life that look like the phrase Lovecraftian got drunk at a party and knocked up the phrase Cronenbergian may initially be disappointed, for while these impressive digital creations (Oscar nominated, don’t you know) are appropriately slimy and spikey, they also have a fair amount of personality themselves, be it a giant snail with puppy-dog eyes or the crazed, climactic crustacean that terrorizes the beach colony. The fact that it turns out that some of the monsters that scrabble around on the earth’s surface are actually benign and can therefore be abused by humans to do their bidding (even during the apocalypse, humans reliably suck) works even further to give the movie it’s colourful, cuddly feel that director Michael Matthews is obviously shooting for.
Funny, charming and carrying the message that maybe we should all learn to face our fears and get out and experience the world more, Love And Monsters is rammed full of heart, positivity and is quite a welcome antidote in these pandemic-heavy times.
It seems you can’t spell creatures without cute.