Love and Monsters is a creature feature that was originally scheduled to come out in theaters earlier in 2020, but after a few release date changes, it finally came out on video on demand (VOD) on October 16. It was directed by Michael Matthews, and it stars Dylan O’Brien, Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker, and Ariana Greenblatt. It’s set seven years after the earth was taken over by giant, mutated versions of common animals like insects and lizards, and humanity has been forced to retreat to underground bunkers to survive.
It follows a young man named Joel (O’Brien) who decides to leave his bunker and travel more than eighty miles on the surface to see his girlfriend (Henwick) for the first time since the monsters took over. Along the way, he meets interesting people, fights terrifying monsters, and finds a loyal companion in a dog he names Boy.
With such a simple premise, this movie is more about the characters than it is about the plot, and it totally works. You take an immediate liking to the main character Joel, and he has really good chemistry with everybody else around him. In particular, on his way to his girlfriend’s bunker, he meets a rugged survivor named Clyde (Rooker) who travels with an equally tough little girl named Minnow (Greenblatt), and this unlikely trio completely steals the show.
When they’re together, the movie takes on a very Zombieland kind of a feel, and I mean that in the best way possible. The relationship between Joel and Clyde is very reminiscent of the dynamic between Collumbus and Tallahassee, and Minnow combines the simplicity of Little Rock with the worldly wisdom of Wichita. There are even a couple of times when the movie veers dangerously close to rip-off territory, but they’re few and far between, so on the whole the similarities to Zombieland don’t distract you from the absolute pleasure of seeing these characters interact with one another.
But Love and Monsters isn’t just about the people. It has some really cool monsters too. They’re bigger versions of already existing animals, but they’re not just that. These creatures are mutated as well, so the filmmakers had a lot of freedom to turn them into terrifying and beautiful beasts that seem to come straight out of a little kid’s nightmares. They’re still similar enough to what they once were that they’re recognizable as normal animals, but they also have a few upgrades to make them the scariest possible versions of those animals.
On top of all that, this film also does the hardest and most important thing that a monster movie absolutely must do: it balances the humans and the monsters in a perfect way. Yes, it has great monsters, but it never devolves into mindless action with no narrative purpose. On the flip side, while the film does have great human characters, it never lingers on them for so long that you get bored and wish it would just cut to the monsters again. It has enough of both, so when the credits roll, you can walk away completely satisfied.
Admittedly, Love and Monsters isn’t exactly typical October horror movie fare. It’s not scary, and it has nothing to do with Halloween, so it can easily slip through the cracks this time of year. But don’t let that happen. This is one of the best genre movies I’ve seen all year. It has great characters, great monsters, and a great balance between the two, so if you’re a fan of monster movies, this one should definitely be on your to-watch list.