If you think 2020 feels apocalyptic enough already, well, you're not wrong. Watching a movie where society has collapsed and humanity has been driven underground might not sound like the escape it once was, but Love and Monsters is something different.
As the name implies, the monsters that kicked humans off the top of the food chain are only half of the equation. It's the love that makes this movie special. Whether that's the long-distance romantic love that drives the narrative, the love between unlikely friends traveling an apocalyptic wasteland together, or the love between a dude and his dog, there's no shortage of love in Love and Monsters.
And, of course, the monsters are pretty cool, too.
Love and Monsters takes place seven years after an apocalyptic event. As the protagonist, Joel (Dylan O'Brien), explains in the opening credits, everything changed when an asteroid set its sights on Earth. The world's governments successfully blew up the asteroid, but the resulting explosion covered the planet in chemicals that mutated anything cold-blooded (bugs, frogs, lizards) into gigantic human-eating monsters. Ninety percent of humanity was quickly wiped out, and the remaining survivors hide underground in colonies linked only by haphazard radio towers.
This seems to be the status quo until Joel uses his colony's radio to track down his old girlfriend, Aimee (Jessica Henwick). Despite the rest of the colony rightfully arguing that Joel won't last a day on the surface, he decides to travel the 80 miles to see Aimee. Along the way, he befriends a dog and links up with a traveling duo played by Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead) and 13-year-old actress Ariana Greenblatt. It's a fun adventure full of heart, quips, and the occasional monster attack that will have you holding your breath while Joel battles with a centipede as big as a limousine.
At its heart, Love and Monsters is the story of Joel's growth as he takes on a terrifying world. It's easy to follow his transformation from wimp into post-apocalyptic hero. When I ask Rooker what he thinks the movie's message is, he points to Joel's journey.
“This young man going after what he feels is his destiny; that's what you got to do,” Rooker tells Inverse. “You don't hang around and be unhappy. You gotta find your own way and do your own thing.”
Sappy meanings aside, one of the reasons Love and Monsters works so well is because of its ensemble. Watching Joel walk through 80 miles of wilderness would have gotten old fast. But watching him do it with a lovable dog, a cooky old man wielding a samurai sword, and a scrappy young girl elevates the entire thing. If you loved Zombieland but wished it was a little less cynical, this is the movie for you. It might not have the star power of Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, and Jesse Eisenberg, but it's got a very cute dog and that's almost as good (if not better).
But before you write off Love and Monsters as some heartwarming Disney adventure, it's important to know that the monsters in this movie are truly awesome. Equal parts gross and terrifying, when Joel faces down a giant frog, encounters a snail as big as a boulder, or falls into a nest of Sand Gobblers (I'm still not sure what they're supposed to be), it really feels like a life or death situation.
These CGI creatures are also amplified by the movie's natural backdrop. Love and Monsters takes place in Northern California, but it was filmed by director Michael Matthews in Australia, which provides the monsterpocalypse vibe the film is going for.
“There's odd, crazy plants that grow there,” Rooker says. “So parts of it look kind of prehistoric.”
There's so much to love in Love and Monsters. Every scene is packed full of ideas, whether it's the rules of the road that keep the group alive (example: you can eat a good meal or get a night's sleep, but not both or the monsters will smell your food) or the creative design choices evident in each mutated monster. One surprisingly touching scene later in the movie sees Joel interacting with a retro-futuristic robot called MAV1S while giant jellyfish float across the night sky.
Ultimately, Joel does make his way to Aimee, and here the movie takes yet another turn. The last stretch of Love and Monsters isn't quite as perfect as the middle, but by then you're already sold. The finale makes up for any leaps of logic with an epic set piece that will keep you from getting bored.
In a different world, Love and Monsters might have been the surprise hit of the summer, giving sweltering movie fans a chance to hide out in air-conditioned theaters for a bit of apocalyptic escapism. Instead, it's coming at a time when we need escapism even more. Thankfully, Love and Monsters is up to the task.
Love and Monsters will be available digitally on October 16.