Love and Monsters: Review
YA adaptations used to be all the rave, yet the genre has descended towards an irrelevant pathway. These former franchise-starters are few and far between now, and the entries that do get released are often met with unceremonious reactions (The Darkest Minds and The Mortal Instruments went by without much fanfare). Paramount’s long-delayed project Love and Monsters feels like a relic of that bygone era, though that’s necessarily a bad thing. Imbuing its narrative trappings with an endearing charm, this YA vehicle offers a welcomed VOD surprise (originally was scheduled for 2021 theatrical release).
Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Love and Monsters follows Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien), an anxious man spending his solemn days living in a bunker community. When he hears his old girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick) on the radio, Joel sets out for a daring journey to cross the inhabited land, encountering several gargantuan creatures in the process.
Most films approach their post-apocalyptic setting with a nihilistic dread, which makes director Michael Matthews playful sensibility a welcome change of pace for the genre. Whether it’s Joel’s sardonic narration or clever cartoon montages, Matthews isn’t afraid to color the genre’s trappings with a deft self-awareness. This decision shapes an imaginative voice behind Love and Monsters’ presentation, displaying a film that isn’t eager to play it safe inside its genre construction (similar to Warm Bodies, this film conveys its dark realities while juxtaposing that with a dry sense of humor).
It helps that Love and Monsters impresses with its sturdy craftsmanship. Matthews and his crew design some well-constructed monster designs that whisk audiences into the film’s uncanny world. These super-sized creatures represent lurking dangers at their worst, yet some of them serve as empathetic forces that reflect the kindness of the world around them. Credit is also due to the film’s central stars, as Dyan O’Brien captures the earnest affability behind Joel’s skittish delivery. Jessica Henwick is a star in the making, elevating Aimee’s standard-issue design with her commanding presence.
Love and Monsters gets by on its scrappy earnestness, though its strengths cant cover up the lingering sense of familiarity. Duffield’s iteration of the script has been collecting dust since 2012, dating itself with simplistically-drawn character work and contrived plot detours (a third act twist can be seen coming from a mile away). It doesn’t help that the movie approaches its parable on empathy’s worldly impact with a hockey self-seriousness that derails any thematic impact.
Still, I can’t deny Love and Monsters innate charms, employing enough smarts and good-will to elevate its formula.