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"LOVE AND MONSTERS"
(2020) (Dylan O'Brien, Jessica Henwick) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi: Having survived so far in a post-apocalyptic world where insects and other cold-blooded critters have mutated into gargantuan monsters and most of the human population is dead, a young man sets out to be reunited with his girlfriend from seven years ago who now lives 85 miles away.
PLOT:

Seven years ago, Joel Dawson (DYLAN O'BRIEN) was a teenager in love with his teenage girlfriend, Aimee (JESSICA HENWICK). But after chemical compounds rained down on Earth from the successful effort of using missiles to destroy an approaching asteroid, all sorts of cold-blooded insects and animals mutated into gargantuan monsters.

After a year of battling them with military might, 95% of the world's population was dead, with the survivors living in underground bunkers all around the world. Including Joel and Aimee, albeit in groupings far apart, with Joel only having recently been able to contact her during the intervening years via brief and intermittent radio conversations.

Now the only single person in his bunker who's relegated to cooking and cleaning while others forage for food and battle the oversized monsters, Joel longs for his own romantic connection. And that specifically means Aimee and thus he decides he's going to hike 85 miles to her location to be with his long-lost love.

Those in his bunker think he's crazy but wish him well as he sets off. Luckily for him, a stray dog named Boy saves his life from one monster, and then he runs into Clyde (MICHAEL ROOKER) and his wiser and tougher than her age 8-year-old companion, Minnow (ARIANA GREENBLATT), who not only rescue him from certain death, but also then teach him how to survive on the surface until they continue on their journey without him.

As he continues on his way with Boy by his side, he must not only contend with all sorts of surprise encounters with varying types of monsters, but also incomplete news that Aimee's group has been rescued by navy man Cap (DAN EWING) and his two assistants, Dana (ELLEN HOLLMAN) and Rocko (TRE HALE), and could be leaving with them at any moment.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

It's interesting what one discovers while doing a little research to figure out what the opening should be for any given movie review. For instance, with the release of "Love and Monsters," I wondered how many other post-apocalyptic movies had been released before this one and that led me to a general Wikipedia entry about the "end of the world" subgenre featuring comedies, dramas, sci-fi flicks, and horror films. What struck me was the overall increase in the number of such films over the decades (all with the caveat that the list might not be complete).

Pre 1950, four such films are listed, with none in the 1940s during WWII when I imagine many people truly through the world might end for real. Not surprisingly, the Cold War era of the 1950s and '60s saw a jump in such films, but that era ended up outnumbered by the '70s, which was outdone by the '80s and so on through the last decade that had four times as many such films as did the 1960s. Does that increase represent society's overall existential crisis? Will COVID result in a WWII type response during the 2020s where people feel like they're living in the end times already and don't need or desire to watch such material?

Only time will tell, but this latest offering from director Michael Matthews and writers Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson is a fun diversion featuring a different sort of "bug" terrorizing the world. More accurately, that includes all forms of insect, amphibians, and other cold-blooded critters that have grown to gargantuan and, yes, monstrous sizes thanks to the chemical fallout seven years ago when humankind used lots of missiles to blow up an approaching, Earth-ending asteroid. While the powers that be prevented that catastrophe, they inadvertently created another where 95% of the human population was wiped out and survivors now live in underground bunkers designed to keep the creepy crawlies at bay.

And after a narrated introduction of those past events, that's where we find our 24-year-old protagonist, Joel Dawson (Dylan O'Brien). While the others might partially agree with Michael Stipes when he sang "It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine" -- at least from a romantic or sexual standpoint -- Joel feels anything but. Relegated to being the bunker cook and custodian, he's viewed as a liability by the rest in terms of battling the monsters or going out on foraging expeditions. To make matters worse, while everyone else has paired off, Joel is the only single member with just their milking cow and a non-functioning robot as his close companions.

But he hasn't given up hope or abandoned his promise that one day he'll find his former high school girlfriend, Aimee (Jessica Henwick), who he last saw as the world as they knew it was deep in the process of ending. Now that he's managed to make radio contact with her, he's finally decided that despite having been underground for the past seven years and having a tendency to freeze up in the face of danger, he's going to make the trek to her compound. The only problem? It's 85 miles away and there are plenty of critters along the way who'd like to make a snack of him.

Undeterred, he sets out and eventually has a stray dog (named "Boy") join him and then meets up with the unlikely duo of grizzled adult Clyde (Michael Rooker) and his wiser and tougher than her age 8-year-old companion, Minnow (Arianna Greenblatt). They teach him the ways of survival up top and eventually part ways, with Joel then learning -- via a brief and interrupted radio call -- that Aimee's compound is being rescued by an Aussie naval captain, Cap (Dan Ewing), and his two crewmates (Ellen Hollman and Tre Hale). Will he make it in time before they depart? Can he avoid being eaten along the way? Tune in next week, same bat-time, same bat-channel.

Sorry, had a brief childhood flashback, most likely because all of this is similarly played in a somewhat campy rather than realistically dire sort of way. While there's peril and close calls with gargantuan toads, centipedes, and an enormous crab, it's all played in a somewhat goofy fashion that has vibes similar to what the underground mutant worm fueled "Tremors" exuded so long ago as mixed with strains of Ray Harryhausen from even further back.

O'Brien makes for an engaging and sympathetic character, while Greenblatt and the dog playing Boy are outright scene stealers. The monster visual effects are all handled quite well, and the film adeptly mixes humor, action, and horror into a satisfying whole.

I'm guessing the ongoing pandemic is going to spawn all sorts of post-apocalyptic films over the next decade, but only time will tell if viewers will seek them out, what with feeling like they've already gone through an introductory version themselves. With nary a virus in sight but featuring lots of creepy crawlies that are blown up in both senses of the word, "Love and Monsters" is fun escapism. It rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 26, 2020 / Posted October 30, 2020


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