Director Michael Matthews’ Love and Monsters is an example of how to do a special effects film with fewer resources — you do what you can with what you have, and let the script, the energetic filmmaking and the acting do the talking. Made on a paltry budget of just 30 million dollars, this somewhat silly post-apocalyptic action-adventure story is one of the most surprisingly fun films of the year.

Admittedly, I really enjoy the post-apocalyptic genre. Any film, TV show, comic book or video game where most of humanity has been wiped out is my idea of a good time. In Love and Monsters, a giant asteroid comes hurtling towards Earth. Although mankind destroys the asteroid, the chemical fallout turns all cold-blooded animals on the planet into huge monsters that brutally kill most human beings — so yes, almost as dangerous as 2020 has been so far.

While they’re evacuating, young Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien) and his girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick) are tragically separated. Soon, Joel sees his parents crushed to death. Watching his family squashed like a bug should have traumatised Joel for decades, maybe giving him the sort of darkness that Bruce Wayne would choke his therapist for. But Joel walks it off and continues to fixate on his lost girlfriend, while living with other survivors in an underground bunker. Initially, you wonder why Joel shows almost no sign of trauma, but he shows signs of PTSD whenever he freezes up in the face of danger.

After living in the bunker for seven years, he connects with Aimee on the radio and the two share their experiences. Clearly, Joel still loves his girlfriend, after all the film is called Love and Monsters. Unfortunately, a giant ant makes its way in, killing someone, which triggers Joel into realising that life is too short.

Love and Monsters is one of the most surprisingly fun films of the year

When our traumatised hero tells the other survivors that he’s going to his girlfriend, they tell him he’s ill-matched for the adventure — it would be like asking an athlete to become the leader of a country (doesn’t make sense!). However, Joel listens to his heart and takes off. Along the way, he encounters other survivors, including Clyde Dutton (Michael Rooker) and Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt). These survivors teach him how to defend himself against the dangers of this threatening world. Alongside his new friends, Joel continues his crazy and amusing journey to find Aimee.

As I said, Love and Monsters had a low budget, and it shows. The monsters look like they were crafted with next-generation video game graphics, rather than cutting-edge Hollywood technology. However, the creatures look good enough to carry the film. More importantly, the special effects are creatively directed, leaving us with plenty of cartoony violence.

The performances are also very good. Dylan O’Brien does a good job as the somewhat naïve lead and holds the narrative together for the 109-minutes runtime. Meanwhile, the supporting actors such as Ariana Greenblatt and Michael Rooker are equally good. It’s particularly enjoyable to see Michael Rooker on screen after a while.

Love and Monsters has everything it takes to be a good popcorn film. Its secret is that it works within its limitations and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Rated PG-13 for action, violence, some suggestive material and language

Published in Dawn, ICON, November 1st, 2020

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