There's a uniqueness to a film like 'Love and Monsters'; it's a mid-budget adventure/sci-fi that has no affiliation with a comic book, nor is it headlined by an A-list star (even if its star deserves A-list status - more on that later). Blame it on the pandemic or a lack of imagination from big studios, but it's been a while since a non-comic book film has had a chance to capture the hearts of the standard two-parent-two-children nuclear family many cinemas gear their business towards. Thankfully, this audience now has a winner in 'Love and Monsters', an earnest romp that never takes itself too seriously.
The film takes place in the unspecified near future, seven years after an asteroid attack-turned-monster apocalypse (eloquently referred to as the "Monsterpocalypse") which has left what is remaining of humanity isolated and in underground bunkers (ironic, hey?), praying the monsters will leave them alone. Struggling without purpose, family or a significant other, Joel Dawson (Dylan O'Brien, the 'Maze Runner' franchise) reaches out to anyone who could be out there via radio - and strikes gold when he discovers that Aimee (Jessica Henwick, 'Ruben Guthrie'), his high school girlfriend who he hasn't seen since the Monsterpocalypse began, who is seeking refuge at a nearby colony only 80 miles away. Driven by his heart, a smidge of horniness and a longing for what used to be, Joel decides to risk the dangerous monsters that stand in his way to be with Aimee once again.
What is so great about 'Love and Monsters' is that there is a true earnestness not often seen in films of this post-apocalyptic sci-fi subgenre; often too busy drowning in their own self-seriousness, they can lose sight of the joys of the human experiences even in the darkest of times. It sometimes borrows from films like 'Zombieland' in ways too derivative to serve as mere inspiration, but 'Love and Monsters' is a palate cleanser in that it never feels like a slog. This inspiration from other films leads to sporadic confusion about exactly what kind of film 'Love and Monsters' wants to be. It has the heart, adventure and whimsy of a film prepped for a Friday night family sit-down, but some of the jokes and designs of the monsters feel way too adult for younger viewers.
Even if these aforementioned monsters can be frightening, their designs look incredible, the kind you would expect from a film with triple the budget. 'Love and Monsters' is a true showcase of Australian talent; filmed on the Gold Coast and featuring VFX work by Adelaide studio The Mill, it is a testament to the brilliant work Australians contribute to the film industry ('Love and Monsters' has also been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects).
Another major plus is the charm of the film's lead star. Dylan O'Brien hit the mainstream as the fan-favourite sidekick in TV's 'Teen Wolf', but it wasn't until he scored the lead role in the 'Maze Runner' franchise that his star seemed to be on the rise - sadly, since then, he hasn't really had the action star career he both seemed prepped for and also deserved. Without his charisma and boyish, wide-eyed nature he brings to 'Love and Monsters' (and any other role he tackles), the film would absolutely fall apart. Given the road trip elements of 'Love and Monsters', where Joel basically acts as a lone ranger befriending humans and androids on journey, it's pivotal that Joel is a hero that the audience is immediately drawn to and want to see succeed, and O'Brien brings these qualities in spades. He's brave without being showy, but can flip to scaredy-cat mode without being a coward. Director Michael Matthews ('Five Fingers for Marseilles') has struck gold in his lead, and other directors in Hollywood would be wise to continue casting O'Brien in these kinds of roles.
Yet another victim of the pandemic-mandated cinema-to-VOD shuffle many films have undergone in the last 15 months, it sucks that 'Love and Monsters' won't get a true chance to shine on the big screen in the way few non-franchise films like this get to any more. Should 'Love and Monsters' become beloved enough by audiences to warrant a sequel, there's plenty more in this universe to dive right into (something the film doesn't outrightly aim for but doesn't fully discourage). I know I'd be more than happy to revisit it.