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Netflix Review: Love and Monsters

April 19, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

2021 Academy Award nominee for Best Visual Effects

As it turns out, the plainly descriptive title of Love and Monsters is a very fitting one. The film has monsters. Lots of ‘em, in fact, and very imaginative ones, too. Enough to get the film a surprise Oscar nomination for visual effects. But it’s also a pretty good romance, that has some surprisingly realistic things to say about love. We get love AND monsters, indeed.

Our protagonist and narrator is Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien), a lovestruck young adult living out the apocalypse. The world has ended, and the backstory of how it happened is told through an amusing series of animated drawings that open the film.

An asteroid threatened the planet, which the military blasted out of the sky with a bunch of rockets. Only the chemicals in the rocket fuel rained back down on us, causing animals and bugs to mutate and grow in size, and turn against us. These monsters have forced the remaining humans into underground bunkers, where Joel has lived for the last few years, being given the job of preparing food and tinkering with the radio due to his poor survival skills.

Now for the love part. Before the fall, Joel had fallen in love with a girl named Aimee (Jessica Henwick), whom he got separated from when civilization fell to the monsters. That was seven years ago. Joel is now alone, and the only one in his colony who isn’t paired up. When Joel finally reconnects with Aimee via radio, and finds out that her colony is only 85 miles away, he ventures out into the surface world to reunite with her.

The trouble is that he’s not much of a survivor, with a tendency to freeze in the face of danger. Along the way, he meets an adorable dog named Boy, and connects with a rugged survivalist named Clyde Dutton (Michael Rooker), who is roaming the surface world with a girl named Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt) and trying to get to the mountains for safety. It’s a journey that is equal parts funny, exciting, and a little bit sweet, carried by O’Brien’s charming performance and delightfully affable voiceover narration.

The second film from South African filmmaker Michael Matthews, Love and Monsters is a solid piece of entertainment. Matthews does a good job of balancing elements of monster movie, romantic drama, and coming of age story. A “Stand By Me” needle drop followed shortly after by a scene of Joel having to remove leeches from himself reveals one of the possible cinematic influences. The influence of Stranger Things producers Dan Cohen and Shawn Levy is also felt. The visual effects are solid throughout, with a lot of fun creature designs including a massively gross, genetically mutated frog, creepy worm monsters called Sand-Gobblers, humongous Boulder Snails, and a giant crab.

But this is also a story about learning to accept how relationships evolve and change, with the fleet and funny screenplay by Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson offering some wisdom as well. What I liked about Love and Monsters is how it delivers exactly what the title implies. There is no false advertising here, just a fun and enjoyable film that is frequently a blast to watch. The story also hits different in the midst of the pandemic, with an oddly inspiring ending about getting back out into the world that leaves things open for a sequel. And if it’s as good as the first film, one would be welcome.

Love and Monsters is now available to stream exclusively on Netflix.

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