Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker
and Ariana Greenblatt
Directed by: Michael Matthews
Written by: Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson
Story by Brian Duffield

Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 1hr 49mins

Critics Choice Super Awards – New Zealand Cinematographers Society – Gold Award – Features  (Lachlan Milne)

Joel: I really didn’t have your typical upbringing. I mean, I did at first and then the world ended.

2020’s LOVE AND MONSTERS has all the ingredients for box office success, but unfortunately, like so many other films, it was a casualty of bad timing. It came out during the COVID-19 pandemic when most people weren’t really leaving their homes to go to the movies. According to, it only brought in a little over $1,000,000 domestically and let’s face it, it may now be time to give this wonderful film a second chance to shine. The movie is a lot of fun and features some interesting themes, solid direction, incredibly likable characters, a great sense of humor and, most importantly, some great monsters, making it the perfect example of what a blockbuster should be – pure entertainment. It’s the kind of film that encourages its audiences to check their brain at the door and just sit back, relax and have a mindless good time.

The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. The opening narration informs the viewer that a large asteroid was discovered hurtling towards Earth, forcing the nations of the world to fire a bunch of rockets into space to blow it up. Though successful, there were consequences when the chemical compound that made up the rockets rained down on the earth, causing the cold-blooded creatures of the world to mutate into large monsters that started eating people. The narration explains, “Well, for most of human history, if you wanted to kill a cockroach, right, all you needed was a shoe. Well, suddenly you needed a shotgun… and sometimes even a tank.” Unfortunately, after a year, 95% of the human population was killed off. The survivors hid anywhere they could: bunkers, caves, panic rooms… and as the movie opens, seven years have passed, and Joel, played by Dylan O’Brien, has been hiding in a bunker with a small colony of people. To survive, the colony’s members must venture out and face off against the creatures to get food and other necessities. Joel is not much of a survivalist, though, and he has a habit of freezing up around danger, making it impossible to bring him along on these excursions. He is more reliable when caring for Gertie, the group’s cow or cooking minestrone for everyone. Then, after gaining radio contact with another colony where the love of his life from seven years earlier has been living, Joel decides it’s time to risk everything and venture out into the world to make the 85-mile trek to be with the only person who truly ever made him happy.

Admittedly, I, myself, had some reservations when I first heard about the movie. Both the film’s title, LOVE AND MONSTERS, and the plot description of a man who risks his life for love made it sound like it was going to be a little too sappy for me. Fortunately, after getting a strong recommendation from a fellow critic, who suggested it needed a wider audience, I decided to check it out and I’m glad I did. Right from the film’s opening moments, where O’Brien’s character Joel gives a voiceover explanation of how the monsterpocalypse came to be, the filmmakers set a nearly perfect tone. This narration describes the destruction of 95% of the human population yet is told in a humorous, matter-of-fact way while being visually illustrated with newspaper clippings, television footage and colorful drawings/animations. This movie may take place in a dangerous world, but the story is immediately set up as a fun adventure with a sense of humor and, eventually, a lot of optimism. Within the first thirty seconds, I was told the world as we know it had ended, yet, because of how the filmmakers addressed the situation, I had a smile on my face and knew that I was in for an entertaining ride.

Director Michael Mathews, along with screenwriters Brian Duffield and Mathew Robinson, have created a smart script filled with well-rounded characters and a lot of heart. They’ve given viewers a story with the perfect balance of action, humor and emotion, allowing what could have been just a typical monster movie to shine above most of the Monsterverse films currently being released. Every small detail has meaning, and a lot of the smaller bits of information that are scattered throughout may at first feel like they’re just being introduced for the importance of the moment but instead find themselves coming back in the end as important lessons for Joel to use while figuring out how to survive the dangerous situations he eventually finds himself in.

The action set pieces are all a lot of fun as Joel’s journey is filled with exciting encounters featuring some interesting monsters. They never get too scary, though, and these scenes play out more like a rollercoaster ride than a horror film. The creature design work in the movie is amazing as there’s a sense of reality to the way monsters look, while the mixture of practical effects and CGI help to maintain a realistic tone for everything that inhabits the story. The monsters are also never treated as just big clunky beasts as each is given their own individual personality and the viewer learns that not all of them are bad. As one character, a young girl named Minnow, tells Joel, “You can always tell in their eyes. Just look at their eyes.”

The film may be filled with a lot of monsters, but it’s ultimately a coming-of-age story about a young man discovering his full potential. Joel is given a strong character arc as the viewer watches him go from a scared man who freezes at the site of a monster to a stronger, more confident soul who can take care of himself by the end. Joel is the real heart and soul that brings the story to life and O’Brian’s performance brings a true everyman quality to the role as he is both funny and relatable all the way through.

On his journey, Joel meets up with a great cast of characters that all have an importance to his internal growth as a character. The most important of these is Clyde, played by the always reliable Michael Rooker, who teaches him how to survive and Minnow, played by Ariana Greenblatt, a young girl of about 12 who tugs at his emotional side and gives him some interesting pieces of wisdom of her own. Though Clyde and Minnow are in very little of the movie, they are fully developed and have their own stories to tell. They travel together but are not father and daughter. They share that each has lost those closest to them and has found a new family with each other, a family that grows to include Joel, at least for a short period. Through their small journey together, they help to teach Joel about survival, family and trusting one’s instincts by not being scared to make mistakes. One of my favorite quotes from the film comes from Clyde, who tells Joel, “… good instincts are earned by making mistakes. If you’re lucky enough to survive a few mistakes, you’re going to be okay out here.”

Let’s not forget the love story. Joel’s driving force is the need to find his girlfriend, Aimee. At the beginning of the film, Joel feels he needs her love to be whole, and that is the main reason for his trek. Aimee is not the same person that Joel remembers, though. She has changed over the last seven years. Their relationship is an interesting one because when they finally reunite (I’m not giving anything away. It’s a Hollywood movie. You knew it was going to happen), their story doesn’t go in the typical cliched direction. Jessica Hardwick effectively adds some real confidence to Aimee as she is a girl who had to grow up quickly to learn to take care of her colony of mostly seniors. The direction the writers take with this part of the story is very different than the viewer might want or expect, but it is an important direction to take in order to emphasize some of the more powerful themes explored in the film.

The standout performance in the supporting cast comes from Hero and Dodge, two dogs that share their screen time playing Boy, Joel’s canine companion whom he meets along the way. The filmmakers skillfully use Boy to tell the story, portraying him not just as an animal sidekick but as a well-rounded character. Boy is a fiercely loyal companion with his own story to tell as he has lost his owner to the Monsterpocalypse and misses her dearly. This is a trait that is seen by his refusal to leave his owner’s dress behind, needing it for a sense of comfort. Boy is the character that brings out the best in Joel and the journey wouldn’t be the same without him.

In the end, LOVE AND MONSTERS is the kind of movie that isn’t going to change a person’s life. Its themes are strong but not earth-shattering and won’t create the type of impact that causes important conversations afterwards. It is, though, the kind of film that’s a lot of fun to watch and viewers will enjoy as a form of pure escapism. It’s basically the cinematic equivalent of our favorite kind of junk food and, let’s face it, with all the stress in the world today, sometimes that’s exactly what we need.



You May Also Like

Share with Friends
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x